Monday, February 23, 2009

Bowa Contradictor: Penny Works His Way Back

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- To the media that covers the Red Sox, pitching coach John Farrell has been an MVP candidate the past two years. On a team where a straight, on-the-record answer from anyone along the management chain is as frequent as a no-hitter, Farrell has never shied from trying to be honest and illuminating, no matter how toxic the topic.

Consider Monday, the day righthander Brad Penny made his live batting practice debut for the Red Sox, after his season ended last September with the Dodgers because of a bad shoulder. Penny's injury took a backseat last week to insult, fired across the country, with malice toward one, by Dodgers coach Larry Bowa.

Responding to Penny's criticism of Bowa's backstabbing ways last season, Bowa flailed away with the knife right into Penny's chest.

"Is this the same Penny that never went to meetings, that came late, left early, was never in shape, always had an excuse when things didn't go right, didn't help the young kids at all?" Bowa said last Tuesday. "Coaches get on players when they're lazy and don't work. I think he should worry about getting hitters out in the American League East and not worry about me."


When asked Monday, Penny didn't offer his thoughts. But Farrell, who had just watched Penny pitch with a purpose in a successful BP session, was at least willing to defend his pitcher, even if he never mentioned Bowa's name. It was politically savvy and publicly enlightening, the kind of shrewd, yet straightforward response that enhances Farrell's standing as a future major league manager.

"I have really no reaction to what feedback has come from the Dodgers," Farrell said. "What we have to base our judgments on are what he shows us day in and day out. We've given him some direction and he's responded very good. I think he sees a group of pitchers around him who work really hard and are disciplined in their approach. That's the norm we have here and there have been no issues fitting in."

If healthy, Penny figures to add to an already deep and talented Red Sox rotation. As a No. 4 starter with No. 2 stuff, Penny could well return to the 16-win plateau he established in 2006 and 2007 with the Dodgers. For now, the Red Sox are content to bring Penny back slowly, pitching him every three days, instead of the usual two, giving his shoulder ample time to regain full strength.

"I felt great," Penny said. "Today, for me, I answered a lot of questions, mentally and physically. I didn't really know what to expect the first time going out there to face hitters, but everything felt great. It's been awhile since I've been out there to pitch, my command wasn't where it normally is, but it wasn't bad. I felt like had life on my fastball, a good rotation on my breaking ball. The splitter was a little erratic, but that will come later in spring.

"I feel 100 percent, but the schedule I'm on now, it's smart. I feel like I'm ready. I don't feel like I have any restrictions. I'm just going to trust the program they have me on and go with that. If they listened to me, I'd want to go out every other day, but they're probably being smarter, giving me more time to strengthen my shoulder to where it should have been last year and it wasn't.

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