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Wheeler thrilled to be back home with Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 15, 2011 05:53 PM

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Caught up with Dan Wheeler, Ryan Kalish and Darnell McDonald at the New Stars and Young Stars event today at Jillian's. Those guys, along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and some of the players from the rookie development program, signed autographs and posed for photos.

Wheeler is thrilled to be with the Red Sox. The Rhode Island native moved to Florida in 1998 to pursue his career — "You can’t do much running and throwing in the winter in Rhode Island," he said — and it paid off handsomely for him.

Wheeler has been to the World Series twice, pitched in 21 postseason games overall and established himself as one of the most durable relievers in the game. Now he has a chance to play close to home. He's looking forward to his wife and three children getting a taste of it.

“It’s very exciting. I love New England. I’ve always loved New England and the area. It’s a great part of the country and it will always be my home,” Wheeler said. “When you’re a kid in New England and you want to play major league baseball, you want to play for the Red Sox.”

Did you know that since 2005, only three pitchers have appeared in more games than the 419 Wheeler has pitched in? Consistency is another trait. Wheeler’s WHIP has been the range of 0.8-1.2 in each of the last six seasons.

The Sox have Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks around to handle the last 6-8 outs of a game. Wheeler will be the guy who gets the sixth or seventh inning. Given the Red Sox offense, having a reliever who can keep a game within reach is valuable.

"I pride myself on being ready to pitch every day," Wheeler said. "I just want to do my part."

I asked Wheeler about Carl Crawford, his teammate with the Rays. He feels Crawford is still maturing as a hitter.

“You can see what we did last year, the way he took off; it was an amazing year. You saw a lot more power in terms of home runs and RBIs than he ever had,” Wheeler said. “He’s a dynamic player.”

And the defense?

“You realize quickly how good he really is. I know Sox fans know how good he is. But until you watch it on a daily basis, you don’t have an appreciation for it,” Wheeler said. “It’s something to watch.”

Kalish came to Boston after six weeks in Arizona working out at Athletes' Performance. He raved about getting a chance to talk hitting with Nick Johnson and spending time with other big leaguers.

Kalish played in 53 games last season and showed the ability to become an everyday outfielder. Still, he did hit a modest .252 /.305/.405. In some ways, the arrival of Crawford might be the best thing for him. Kalish will likely get a chance to spend close to a full season at Pawtucket then emerge in 2012 a more polished player. Don't forget, he's doesn't turn 23 until March.

Kalish said all the right things today.

“(Crawford) is very elite. He’s one of the best at what he does. For me, it’s great because I get to watch guys like that and learn from him,” Kalish said. “I have to keep learning. That’s how you keep getting better. … I’m ready to learn wherever it is I have to learn.”

Kalish is planning to report to the complex in Fort Myers on Jan. 28 to get to work.

D-Mac was chill as always. His surgically repaired thumb is fine and he's looking forward to spring training after his surprising success in 2010. McDonald is not worried about playing time in what could be a crowded outfield.

"I know my role," he said. "I just want to get that championship. That's what I'm here for."

McDonald was solid against lefties last season (.294/.357/.464) and you could see him in the outfield against southpaws, especially if Mike Cameron is the DH. With so many tough lefties in the AL East, having McDonald around to spell J.D. Drew or Jacoby Ellsbury could be important.

It's amazing how well McDonald has mixed in with the Sox after his itinerant career and how much fans seem to like him. It also speaks well of him to take time away from Arizona and travel to Boston to meet with folks and spread some baseball warmth on a cold day.

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That's it for today barring any news. Enjoy the football and hopefully a Patriots victory tomorrow.

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