EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 5, 2007

Sox pitching coach identifies Pineiro as potential closer

By Rob Bradford , Staff writer

Scouting reports are one thing, but a roommate's report is something else entirely.

Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer sat with his team's newest acquisition, Joel Pineiro, addressing the media in the Fenway Park interview room yesterday. The message was that the Red Sox had seen enough, heard enough and read enough about the 28-year-old to feel comfortable enough to throw him into the mix for the team's closing duties.

"Joel was right at the top of the list," Hoyer said. "He's a guy that, even when he was having great success as a starter, a lot of our reports were, 'Wow, this guy would be unbelievable in the bullpen.'"

But two of the men responsible for recognizing Pineiro's potential effectiveness as a closer resided in Ohio and New York. Although it was easy to see that the pitcher's velocity had gone up a few ticks upon entering the Seattle bullpen in mid-August last season, but not everybody knew what his demeanor was like upon returning home after one of those relief outings.

Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, who was charged with helping identify potential closers in the free-agent market, had called Mariners third base coach Carlos Garcia. Garcia, a resident of Depew, N.Y., and former co-worker with Farrell in the Indians organization, not only had witnessed the good and the bad of Pineiro, but also spent the last two seasons sharing living quarters.

"With every trade or player acquisition, you are always trying to do due diligence by making a connection with people you have an affiliation with and who you trust," Farrell said from his Ohio home. "Carlos is a very good baseball person, and he knows what translates to different parts of the game, even though he was a position player. He has a sense and feel for what a player's attitude and emotions are between the lines. We feel like this is a little bit of a creative move, but one that he wants."

The Red Sox are taking a chance on Pineiro because of the improvement he showed after Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves adjusted the hurler's arm angle (four inches away from his head) during last year's move to the bullpen. The reports dictated that his velocity rose into the mid-90s, and, subsequently, his strikeout rate jumped to 6.8 punchouts per nine innings as a reliever compared to a rate of 4.3 as a starter.

And then there was Garcia's confirmation of the successful transformation.

"There was some insight into how he responded to the short-inning outings, and how quick he adapted to the arm-slot change," Farrell said. "Anybody who has pitched his entire career with an over-the-top delivery, any slight adjustment is probably going to feel greater than it usually is. And talking to Joel, he acknowledged that.

"Not having to pace himself and not having to carry a lot of information to the mound allows him to free up his aggressiveness even more."

According to Farrell, who was assigned a similar task of deciphering potential closers while with the Indians, committing $4 million to Pineiro for next season is worth the investment.

"In the short time he spent in the bullpen, he was much more successful than trying to go through the lineup two or three times," the Sox pitching coach said. "In the one-inning stints, the aggressiveness comes out in him a little bit more. He doesn't have to pace himself.

"I think these are all ingredients that make us feel like he will be a successful reliever, and as we get him in situations to be successful and build his confidence, he is going to contribute to the back end of the game."

Loretta signs with Houston

At approximately 2 p.m. on the West Coast, Houston Astros owner Drayton McClain called Mark Loretta, hoping to convince the second baseman to come to his team. Three hours later, the deal was done, and Loretta had officially become a former member of the Boston Red Sox.

While signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal to return to Houston, where he spent a month with in 2002, was certainly a welcome scenario, Loretta had made it clear throughout the offseason that Boston was where he would have preferred to end up.

"At the Winter Meetings, my agent just said, How about a million dollars?' It wasn't a really serious conversation, but the point is that would have been, all things considered, my first option if there would have been any interest on the team's side," said Loretta from his San Diego-area home moments after returning from undergoing a physical for the Astros.

"We basically said, 'Do you have any interest at any level at any dollar amount?' And basically the answer was no."

Loretta figures to backup third baseman Morgan Ensberg, second baseman Craig Biggio and first baseman Lance Berkman. The majority of his playing time will likely come at second. Biggio hit just .246 last season and need 70 hits to reach 3,000 for his career.

"I really think it is the best option available to me now," Loretta said. "I'm excited about it."