Jon Papelbon Blanks Norwich; Catching Up With Jon

Today I was honored to be able to go up and see a Portland SeaDogs game, where they thrashed the last place Norwich Navigators (the outcome of the game was never in doubt from pitch one) 5-1 and I had the privilege of meeing Jon Papelbon, his mother, and seeing up close David Murphy and Brandon Moss (who seem to be very good friends) and seeing Jon Papelbon throw six innings of no-hit ball.

Papelbon was pulled after six innings (of a seven inning game, made so to accomodate the twi-night doubleheader that was occuring right after the game I attended – I didn’t stay because I had to hightail it home, didn’t want to stay the night in Portland) because his pitch count was at 96 and his hip flexor issues made the coaching staff want to proceed with caution. Some weeks ago, when Papelbon was on the bus travelling, he fell asleep in the wrong position and woke up with a crick in his neck, couldn’t really do anything (I hate those!) and then after that hurt his hip flexor somehow, so he missed a start, which he was probably going to do anyways.

They want Papelbon to miss a couple of starts to rest him, as they did last year, when he threw 129.2 IP, more than his college career years combined. Papelbon has a remarkable show of endurance though, as even after he was through last year, he wasn’t tired from it all!

As I was watching Jon Papelbon (I’ve been so thoughtful for you and provided a video! VIDEO: Jon Papelbon throws a pitch) I noticed that he worked very fast, as opposed to the slow work of opposing pitcher Merkin Valdez. He also has a slight hitch in the delivery, something that may not show up in the video. Overall, he has a free and easy motion, and the ball literally explodes right out of his hand when he puts juice on a fastball. He also mixes pitches effectively and has a good curveball but struggles a bit with control on the curve.

Papelbon had a perfect game through three innings, but with two out in the fourth inning, a Navigators batter (I think it was Carlos Valderrama) hit a ball to 3B Jared Sandberg who committed the cardinal sin of backing up. As he tried to play the bounce off the ball, he stepped back awkwardly and just barely lost the race to first base as the batter beat the throw. It was instantly ruled an error, and to be honest, I think should have been a hit. However, what was later scored a hit in the 7th off reliever Conor Brooks should have been an error. A ball was grounded to Hanley Ramirez, ranging to his right. It deflected off the glove, and Hanley showed tremendous athleticism by spearing it jumping in the air and throwing across his body to first, but the batter was safe. Hanley is something else. He’s got a nice stroke at the plate (sorry, no video, I was trying to get one but couldn’t get it in time when I remembered to video him) and his fielding is pretty smooth with a very strong arm. I can’t say if Dustin Pedroia is a better fielder or not (I have heard rumblings here and there that Pedroia is a better fielder, even at short) but Hanley looks very smooth and solid there.

Brandon Moss, the likely successor to Trot Nixon in right field, has made me an instant fan. He made a nice backhand catch with his back to homeplate, jumping ever so slightly to spear the ball. You know the play, Nixon makes it all the time. He also has a nice swing (VIDEO:Brandon Moss flies out to left) and I think has tremendous potential. I am a fan of his swing, and also David Murphy’s swing, which I think is the best on the team. Free, easy, smooth, no hitches. He slapped a couple hits, and I’m thinking that we haven’t seen the best of this guy yet. Good, as he’s been less than impressive as a former first-round pick by the Sox (2002). I can see him as a nice fourth outfielder. I think this guy has vast untapped potential, his swing is too good for there not to be.

Back to Papelbon – I noticed during the game that he was wearing #50, so I inquired into it after the game, and he wore #19 in college, but the uniform was too small when he played in Lowell, so he ended up with #23 there. He did terrible in Lowell, so announced he was finished with low uniform numbers. Well, the biggest uniform size in Portland came with #50, so #50 it was for Jon.

After the game I got to meet Jon Papelbon and say hello. That was basically it, so no pictures, because he had to dash off to the clubhouse to get his arm massaged and iced, and work on his hip flexor. An interesting thing is that in the clubhouse in Portland (which is not even in the park, it’s in a brick building in the outfield) is off-limits to everyone including reporters. They have to stand out in the parking lot just like everyone else. As I was leaving, Brandon Moss and David Murphy walked by me, laughing as they headed to the field to prepare for game number two. We’re seeing these two in Fenway eventually.

A bit of background for you folks on Jon. One thing he hates the most about wooden bats (he generally likes them over aluminum) is that he hates broken bat singles, because they’re cheap hits. He gets angry about that, and also angry about hits he gives up. He wasn’t very happy that he allowed Sandberg to get in position to make that error – apparently he should have struck him out! Papelbon was drafted in the fourth round in 2003, a year after the Oakland Athletics (his preferred team prior to being picked by the Red Sox) picked him in the 40th round. He did not sign because he wanted one more year in college to pitch and a chance to get to the College World Series (he did not). The Phillies had called him in round six to ask if he’d sign if they drafted him in round 6, but he said no. The Red Sox came out of nowhere to draft him the next year in the 4th round. Many teams were interested in him, and the family had met every single club’s scout except for the Red Sox. The Red Sox were not a factor in the discussions at all, and voila, we snapped him. Ms. Papelbon theorizes that the Red Sox scout gleaned his information about Jon from his neighbor, a teammate of Jon’s at MSU. Very shrewd of the scout to show no interest at all to lull the other teams into thinking the Red Sox would pass on him!

To read more about Jon, you can always check out my interview I did with him during Spring Training.

Later today in the Boston Herald, Steve Buckley will be doing a feature piece on Jon’s twin brothers, Jeremy and Josh. Jeremy is an Abe-Alvarez clone with a 84, 85-mph fastball as a lefty, while Josh is a dominating submarine righty. He used to be over the arm until a few years ago when his college coach asked him to become a submariner because he had too many over the top righties! Josh was dominant during the college year as a closer, logging a 0.20 ERA before the final four games when it was inflated to around 1.20 by giving up a run in each outing. Pick up the Herald if you get a chance. I saw the pictures the newspaper took, and there are some excellent pictures of Jeremy and Josh, especially one where they are throwing on the mound that really illustrates the stark contrast in throwing motions.

That was my night! I had a lot of fun. Good to hear the Red Sox finally won a game against the Blue Jays. From what I’ve heard of the David Wells situation, the umpire completely overreacted. I hope that Yankee fan (and MLB discliplinarian) Bob Watson doesn’t suspend him. Also, Matt Mantei was finally put on the DL over a month after he should have been, and Abe Alvarez, whom Jon is good friends with, was called up. Very interesting, I thought it would have been Cla Meredith or Jeremi Gonzalez. My guess is they wanted to get a lefty in the bullpen who was, you know, actually effective. But I wonder, if Abe, even at the tender age of 22, does very well out of the bullpen, if he could take over John Halama’s spot and mark the end of Halama’s tenure in Boston once Schilling returns? Odds are Abe goes back down when Schilling returns, but what about when Mantei does? That could spell the end of Halama, because calling up a virtual Halama-clone doesn’t bode well for the original Halama.

SHOTS FROM THE GAME Brandon Moss At Bat, Albert Concepcion #11, Moss #3, David Murphy #18, Cocepcion At Bat, Murphy At Bat, Hadlock Field, Psuedo Green Monster, View of Hadlock, Hanley Ramirez At Bat, Hanley Ramirez Hits a HR, Merkin Valdez of the Giants, future star, Jon Papelbon pitches, Yay, Hanley HRd!, …Just because of his funky stance