February 19, 2013

Tom Caron: Farrell's setting a stern tone

FORT MYERS, Fla. - It'll be nearly six weeks until we get the first returns on the 2013 Red Sox. John Farrell's team hasn't even played a preseason game yet.

Sitting here in southwest Florida, all we can do is speculate, and you can easily make the argument that this team will win 90 games.

Or lose 90 games.

There is just too much uncertainty, too many "ifs" surrounding this team to possibly guess how it will do when the games begin for real.

We don't know if Mike Napoli can play first base every day, if Jonny Gomes is more than a platoon outfielder, if Shane Victorino has begun a downward spiral or if Stephen Drew will be back to his former self after battling injuries.

We don't know if Ryan Dempster can handle a full season in the American League, if John Lackey can return successfully from Tommy John surgery, or if we'll see the Jon Lester of 2012 or the Lester of 2010.

We do know this much. The 2013 Red Sox want to win you back over. Even the newcomers who weren't part of the 93-loss season last year. Farrell has made that abundantly clear from the start.

"To a man in that room, everyone associates the name Red Sox with winning," said Farrell. "That came out in conversation throughout the offseason. There's been an eagerness to get back down here and get started and rewrite that script. Different degrees of embarrassment, different degrees of knowing that what transpired last year isn't the norm or isn't the expectation or allowable to a certain degree. So, I'm confident of that mind-set to rewrite that story."

If anyone in "that room" -- the clubhouse -- wasn't sure of Farrell's message, the manager made it clear in last Thursday's opening speech at training camp. The talk motivated everyone in the clubhouse.

"I was ready to run through a wall," said team chairman Tom Werner.

"My staff and I left the room saying 'let's go fire off some emails,' " said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Sam Kennedy.

Let's hope it has the same effect on the players.

It didn't take long for Farrell's authority to be put to the test. Alfredo Aceves, last year's biggest disciplinary problem, needed a stern talking to when he lobbed in three-quarter speed fastballs during his first live batting-practice session. The idea is to throw all out.

Farrell sent out pitching coach Juan Nieves to talk to Aceves, possibly the first meeting on the mound during "live BP" in spring-training history. After the talk, Aceves threw harder. After the session, the manager was waiting to talk to the pitcher.

Afterward, Farrell passed up the opportunity to publicly air out his problem child.

"The one thing I'll say is he didn't go through the drill as intended and we've addressed it," Farrell said.

This was a chapter straight out of Terry Francona's playbook. What made Francona great was his ability to keep issues "in-house." He dealt with Manny Ramirez for four-plus years, and never vented about it publicly.

Aceves is not Ramirez, but some have already called this weekend's incident "Alfredo being Alfredo." And Farrell handled it like a pro.

"There are 25 individuals on this team, but there are certain things that are going to be expected," Farrell said. "If someone strays outside of that, that's my job to make it clear on what's expected."

So far, Farrell has done exactly that.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

 

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