Catcher Jason Varitek used to call Pedro Martinez "Channel 11" because of the pitcher's sticklike legs. "No more 11," Martinez boasted this month to Varitek after adding 10 pounds through a rigorous winter training program. "Call me 12." Said Varitek, "I'll give you 11�. Maybe."
Since Feb. 27 Boston has changed owners, general managers, managers, scouting directors, managers again, hitting coaches and corporate cultures. For all those machinations, though, absolutely nothing has changed when it comes to the fate of the ball club: It falls hard and heavy on the spindly frame of Martinez. Once again the Red Sox have patched together a rotation behind Martinez with glue and duct tape and will pray that it—along with Martinez's severely stressed shoulder—holds.
Through four seasons in Boston, Martinez has a .778 winning percentage (70-20, including the postseason) for a team that is a mediocre .505 (288-283) without him. Boston has tried 28 other starters in the rotation during the Pedro era, and only one, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, has thrown 200 innings in a season (1998); none has won more than 13 games in a year.
The Red Sox farm system has been so fallow that no home-grown pitcher has started 20 games in a season for the Sox since Jeff Suppan in 1997 That shortcoming led since-ousted G.M. Dan Duquette to operate like a used-tire salesman, peddling retreads and imminent blowouts. "My only worry is the day I pitch," Martinez said. "But it would be nice to know that if you fail, you still have a chance to see a win the next day."
None of the four projected starters behind Martinez has had much success starting in the American League. John Burkett is 32-35 in the AL (109-84 in the NL); AL newcomer Dustin Hermanson was 61-61 in the NL, with one 200-inning season; Frank Castillo gave Boston only 136? innings last year; and Derek Lowe enters the rotation after failing as a closer in 2001.
To prepare for the grind of a full season as a starter, Lowe gained 25 pounds over the winter and started throwing in January to regain the feel for his curveball and cutter, pitches he had little use for as a closer. "You get to work on your craft," Lowe said about the predictable schedule of a starter. "You get to lift weights, throw on the side, play golf.... I love it."
Martinez said he hopes his added poundage will help him avoid the shoulder trouble that has hampered him over the last three seasons. Martinez said he worked "harder than ever before" in the winter, visiting a gym in Fort Myers, Fla., every night after his normal training routine to keep his shoulder strong.
Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who played in only 21 games last year because of a tear in a wrist tendon, reported none of the troublesome swelling in spring training that he experienced last year. Varitek, who played in only 51 games, is back from a fractured elbow. The signing of free-agent centerfielder Johnny Damon (27 steals) adds speed to what was the worst running team in baseball last year (46 steals).
New owners Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry have thrown out the Ministry of Disinformation style of Duquette and CEO John Harrington and are courting the Boston media. New manager Grady Little has the easygoing clubhouse charm lacking in last year's manager, Joe Kerrigan. "In fairness to Joe," Lowe said of the 17-26 collapse under Kerrigan, "the ship was sinking, and it didn't matter who was coming on board."
Boston would like to think a new era has begun. All of Red Sox Nation will be watching Channel 11 for updates.