A personal approach
New Sox pitching coach Farrell believes knowing staff a key
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- No one in the Red Sox organization has had more to learn with more at stake heading into this season than John Farrell.
Farrell, hired in October as the club's big-league pitching coach, has spent countless hours this winter watching video, talking on the phone and sitting down with pitchers over barbeque lunches -- all in an effort to get to know the players he'll be coaching this year.
Now that Spring Training has finally arrived in Fort Myers, he can put all his research and background efforts to work. He couldn't be happier.
"That everyone gets through camp healthy," Farrell said in describing his primary Spring Training goal. "That's first and foremost. If we're able to do that, then some of the questions we do have coming into camp, in terms of what pitchers will occupy certain roles, we give ourselves options [to answer the questions]."
Before this spring, Farrell spent the past 5 1/2 seasons as Cleveland's director of player development. This year he makes the transition to the dugout, sitting alongside skipper Terry Francona.
"We feel like the program or the plan that has been put in place takes all that into account in terms of 40-year-old pitchers that we have in the rotation, guys acclimating themselves from another country -- another baseball culture -- to transitioning roles like Joel Pineiro going from a career-long starter to now a reliever and Jonathan Papelbon going from closer back to the starting rotation," he said.
There's an old baseball adage that Spring Training is really for pitchers and catchers to get ready. The former right-hander, who was 36-46 over an eight-year career with the Indians, Angels and Tigers, agrees.
"I think Spring Training really revolves around pitchers getting ready for the start of a full season," he said.
Much has been made this spring of the need for Farrell to communicate with Japanese hurlers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima. But listen to Farrell for just a short while, and it becomes clear that he wants to speak the language of pitching with his entire staff.
"We've had a couple of sit-down situations with Papelbon, with Josh Beckett, more tweaking, more minor adjustments to get them back on track. But I think once their base is set and their foundation is in line, now we can ramp up the number of pitches that will be thrown in a given outing," he said.
In this age of video scouting and analysis, Farrell believes something else is the more important in helping hurlers reach their potential.
"The feedback from the individual pitcher, without a doubt," he said. "We can look at film all we want and look at statistics all we want. But to get to know what's going on inside the minds and hearts of those guys who are actually throwing the baseball is what this actually comes down to, because regardless of the success that a given pitcher has had, if he feels good about himself and he feels comfortable, then he's going to be in a setting to most readily reproduce positive results.
"Yes, we want to be sure that the physical and fundamental portions of their game are in check -- their routines are established -- but I think the interaction and the feedback they can give you is the greatest insights you can have."
Then there are the great lengths Farrell will go to get those insights. Like when he called up Beckett and offered to take him to lunch at a barbeque restaurant near the pitcher's Texas home.
"He took me out for a three-hour barbeque lunch, and I didn't think that was possible," Beckett recalled. "He really has made the effort to get to know me. I think he plans on doing that with everyone on the staff to build trust."
Of course, there's the little matter of getting to know his two Japanese pitchers, especially Matsuzaka.
"I think the one thing that has stood out, as we have come to know him here in the first couple of weeks in Florida, is that he is very comfortable with all the attention that he receives, and rightly so," Farrell said of Dice-K. "He was a very successful pitcher in Japan. He has been very engaging and integrated into the clubhouse almost seamlessly.
"It's been a humbling experience, I'll tell you that much. As far as the lack of repetition [of travel to Japan], you don't have the chance much like you would traveling to Latin America to pick up Spanish as a second language. Still in all, I think it's important, especially for me to pick up some understanding of the language," Farrell said.
Whether he speaks fluent Japanese or knows where to score the best ribs in town, Farrell will ultimately be judged on how successful his staff is and how far the Red Sox go as a result.
"There's been a lot of anticipation by a number of people in the organization," Farrell said. "That was spoken very clearly as we had our full introductions, from John Henry, to Theo [Epstein], to Tito [Francona] and all the way down. I think everyone shares a sentiment of that excitement, including myself. And I think coming into the position last October, there was a lot of work as far as familiarizing myself with [the pitchers'] deliveries, familiarizing myself with them as individuals.
"We're very excited to see the bats and balls get thrown out here, but we know we're building towards Opening Day and a successful season," Farrell said.
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.