Red Sox notebook

Penny has become the good humor man

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 11, 2009
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ANAHEIM, Calif. - The shyness of Ramon Ramírez is evident. He doesn't speak much English. He's new to the Red Sox. And in spring training, his interactions with his teammates seemed limited.

But when asked about being welcomed by those teammates into the clubhouse, Ramírez gave an interesting answer. Not only was he being mentored by Manny Delcarmen, a fellow Spanish speaker, but so too was he feeling the same sense of inclusiveness from Brad Penny.

He's not alone. Though Penny might not be fluent in Spanish (or Japanese, for that matter), it's notable to see how he talks to his teammates, how he pats them on the back, how he makes sure to say something to them when others might not.

"I think he has a sixth sense when it comes to communication," said Takashi Saito, his teammate on the Dodgers as well, through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "It's something that goes above and beyond language. He's able to find humor in situations and similarities with all kinds of other players. I've met a few players who have that ability, but even among those people, he has a very unique talent for being able to communicate with others."

Saito and Penny have adjoining lockers at Fenway Park and on this trip at Angel Stadium. There's a comfort in having Penny around for Saito, and for others on the team.

"I can't speak for everybody else, but for me personally, I think he has been a very important presence," Saito said. "It's just a coincidence that here in 2009, we're again wearing the same uniform. For my four years here [in the United States], we've been able to spend all this time together. For me to be in this locker room being surrounded by all these major leaguers feels like an All-Star Game to me every day.

"But having Brad around, whether it's in the locker [room] or on the bus, he just creates all those fun little moments, those fun little events that have really helped me get by in my time here."

Not that Saito was willing to reveal any examples of Penny's lightheartedness. "I don't know if they're fit for print, but he does have a really good, edgy sense of humor," Saito said.

It's not as if the Sox signed Penny for his interpersonal skills. It's more about what Penny will bring to the rotation. The Sox will get a bit of insight into that today when Penny makes his Boston debut.

The team is hoping for about 85 pitches from Penny, who is seemingly healthy at this point in the season after battling shoulder trouble throughout 2008.

And no one knows what Penny can do when his shoulder is right better than Saito.

"He doesn't necessarily have a lot of different types of pitches, but he's somebody that you would call a prototypical power pitcher," Saito said. "The hitters are waiting for the fastball and he throws the fastball and somehow he gets those outs. As a pitcher myself, it's a pitching style that I'm a little bit envious of."

There's a catch
This was a test, because the Angels are no slow-footed base cloggers. For George Kottaras, that meant added pressure in his first major league start last night. Not only was he still getting used to being Tim Wakefield's backstop, but he had to worry about the Angels on the basepaths. For good reason - the Angels went 3 for 3 on steals against Kottaras in the first inning.

"I think a lot of people change their approach when he's on the mound," Kottaras said. "He holds runners on, he's quick to the plate. It's anticipating them going, but at the same time, I'm staying within myself. There's only so much one can do, and I've got to stay within myself and not try to do too much."

Especially in one's major league debut, of which manager Terry Francona said before the game, "I bet you his heart's beating now. I would hope so."

Wakefield and Kottaras are getting more comfortable with each other each time they work together. It's hard to feel good behind the plate with a knuckleballer on the mound, but Kottaras is getting there.

"Slowly but surely, it's going in the right direction, as far as comfort level," Kottaras said. "I think at the same time, it's something where it's a little unpredictable so you can't get too comfortable. You always have to be on your feet, focused. Just react."

Kottaras has been working with the other pitchers, as well, coming early to catch bullpen sessions. It's likely that he might catch more day games after night games than other Sox backup catchers have in the past.

Ortiz steps up
At his request, David Ortiz met with the father of Nick Adenhart, the Angels pitcher who was killed in a car accident early Thursday morning, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported. Ortiz spent five minutes in the tunnel below home plate with Jim Adenhart.

"I look at my son and I'm like 'I would die if I lose him,' " Ortiz told the Press-Enterprise. "And I just give him my prayer."

Ortiz, according to the paper, watched on television with his son, D'Angelo, as Adenhart threw five scoreless innings Wednesday night.

"I was talking to my boy, telling him, 'Wow, look at this kid. Anaheim is lucky to have this good pitcher.'

"When I heard [Adenhart had died], it felt like I knew him forever."

Practice pays off
Two home runs into the season, it appears Jason Varitek is getting some return on his investment of time with hitting coach Dave Magadan during the spring. He might not be hitting for average (.167), but there have been hard-hit outs and those homers. "He's hit the ball probably on the nose six or seven times," Francona said. "That's probably what is more important. I know players, they need to see results. I understand that. You keep making right turns, it's hard to keep patting guys on the back: 'Hey, way to go.' But he's swung the bat really well. The hardest thing for hitters is - pitchers probably too - when you're not having success, people want to change right away. When you're lining out, that's when you get yourself in trouble. You want to do more. So you try to do more, and all of a sudden, you're doing something different. The hardest thing is just trying to stay consistent." . . . Mark Kotsay did well yesterday, according to Francona, as he works his way back from January back surgery. He ran, took swings, did some work in the outfield, and did more throwing. He's making progress toward his expected return in less than a month . . . Julio Lugo (knee) had his first day of work in extended spring training . . . John Smoltz is expected to throw Wednesday in Oakland before heading to extended spring training . . . The Sox wore their alternate blue road jerseys for the first time, along with caps with the "Hanging Sox" logo. The team will wear alternate jerseys on Friday nights this season (blue on the road, red at home). Today marks the debut of the new gray uniforms . . . Sean McAdam of the Herald and later the Globe's Tony Massarotti pinch hit for the ailing Jerry Remy alongside Don Orsillo on the NESN telecast.

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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