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Communication gaps bedeviling the Red Sox

Pitching coach Bob McClure fired

Bobby Valentine (second right) with coach Bob McClure. They were at odds before McClure was fired Monday.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Bobby Valentine (second right) with coach Bob McClure. They were at odds before McClure was fired Monday.

When Josh Beckett missed a start because of a sore lower back earlier this month, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was asked by a reporter if the righthander would pitch in the bullpen before he returned to the mound.

Valentine said he didn’t know for sure, but imagined that Beckett would.

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A day later, when asked the same question, Valentine smiled and shook his head.

“I probably should know that, right?” he said.

Beckett’s locker is seven steps from Valentine’s office at Fenway Park. A dozen steps the other way is the office pitching coach Bob McClure shared with the other coaches, before he was fired on Monday. But somehow Valentine did not know, or wasn’t properly informed, about the readiness of one of his most important players.

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As the Red Sox stagger to the end of what could be their third consecutive season without a spot in the playoffs, broken lines of communication are one of the underlying reasons for their 59-63 record. What was once a model organization is now marked by distrust and the inability of team executives, coaches, and players to work cohesively.

Players take their concerns directly to general manager Ben Cherington or even owner John Henry, bypassing baseball’s usual chain of command at several levels.

Even elemental issues such as determining when a player will get a day off to care for an injury have become contentious.

“I think all of us can safely say we made some mistakes,” McClure said last week.

Until recent weeks, after all sides agreed to try harder to make it work, Valentine’s conversations with McClure were dominated by one- or two-word sentences. Bench coach Tim Bogar and bullpen coach Gary Tuck spoke to the manager even less at times.

Valentine, in the first year of a two-year contract, had one group of coaches he bonded with (those he had a hand in hiring) and another he didn’t (those he inherited).

“After a while, I just figured that was the way it was going to be,” Valentine said. “If I needed information, I found a way to get it.”

The situation grew so tense in late June that Bogar and McClure, two of the coaches Valentine inherited, considered asking for reassignment within the organization, according to two major league sources.

Cherington stepped in shortly after, urging Valentine and the coaches to put aside their differences.

“There was an effort made on everyone’s part,’’ Cherington said in an interview with the Globe Friday. “Every season in the big leagues, to me anyway, is a precious opportunity. We owed it to each other to do whatever we could to take advantage of that opportunity. There was renewed commitment to communication. It hasn’t translated into wins on the field as much as we’ve wanted.”

The discord filtered into the clubhouse, leaving the players wedged in the middle or forced to take sides. Former manager Terry Francona used his bench coaches, first Brad Mills and then DeMarlo Hale, as liaisons to the players. They quietly kept the players informed about what Francona was planning, and disagreements were largely handled before they became public.

Under Valentine, that pipeline never opened because he and Bogar did not get along.

Bogar spends ample time with the players, often pulling up a chair in the clubhouse to talk to small groups. But he and Valentine, until recent weeks, spoke only when necessary. Even during games, they rarely stood together.

As a player, Bogar was released by Valentine in 1997, and was bitter about it at the time. Bogar denied that was the cause of the friction between the two — “Come on, that was [15] years ago,” he said — but acknowledged their relationship has been rocky.

“It took some time for everybody to get on the right page,” Bogar said.

“Communication is body language, it’s how you ask questions. The way certain people do it and the way other people do it, it’s hard to decipher what exactly the meaning is. It took a long time to go in the right direction.

“Communication has to work upward and downward. If you consider [the coaches] between the players and the manager, then we have to work down and work up. It has to be circular. If it’s not circular, it doesn’t work.”

When those circles led to dead ends, some of the players interceded. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has attempted to serve as a bridge between the factions, taking concerns the coaches had about Valentine’s strategy back to the manager.

David Ortiz, the team’s longest-tenured player, also supported Valentine and urged teammates to do the same.

“I think Bobby has tried to do the right things for this team,” Ortiz said. “Some people are with him, some people are not. But we’re supposed to be a team. The situation hasn’t been good sometimes.”

Team president Larry Lucchino has said Valentine will not be fired before the end of the season. But Lucchino has left open the idea of change, and if Valentine survives this season, the coaching staff will be molded more to his liking.

“There are a lot of issues we need to examine,” Lucchino said. “The staff has to be able to work together.”

When Valentine was hired last November, he was strongly urged by the front office to retain Bogar, Tuck, and hitting coach Dave Magadan, who were still under contract and highly regarded by Cherington.

Valentine was allowed to bring in third base coach Jerry Royster, a former teammate in the Dodgers organization. Valentine also hired Randy Niemann, once his bullpen coach with the Mets, as the assistant pitching coach. Niemann was named to succeed McClure on Monday.

The sides agreed on first base coach Alex Ochoa, a rising coaching star in the organization who played two seasons under Valentine in New York.

The pitching coach became a sticking point. Several candidates were considered before the Red Sox promoted McClure, who had been hired only weeks earlier as a minor league instructor and scout.

Valentine, in his previous stops as a manager, relied heavily on his pitching coach. But he and McClure were at odds even during spring training over how best to prepare the pitchers, what roles they should take on the staff, and even their pitching mechanics.

Valentine, for example, believed righthander Daniel Bard would be more effective pitching from the stretch position than the windup, something McClure dismissed by saying Valentine never pitched.

“That’s probably harder on him because he’s the manager and he wants things done a certain way,” McClure said. “Some of the coaches he ended up with, he might have had someone else in mind. It was probably harder on him than it needed to be. I needed to take that into account.’’

Said Valentine: “I can’t go ask 12 players how they feel that day. That’s why you have the pitching coach. It’s about getting information, and for a while, I wasn’t getting information.”

Earlier this month, when the Red Sox were using six starting pitchers instead of the usual five, righthander Aaron Cook complained directly to Cherington about not knowing what day he would pitch instead of asking Valentine.

He was encouraged to go over the manager’s head by several other veteran pitchers, according to a team source.

Such incidents, while minor, have become commonplace and speak to the fractured nature of the team.

Cherington believes his relationship with Valentine is productive, saying the two speak frequently and have generally worked in concert regarding roster moves. Valentine has publicly agreed.

Valentine has gotten along well with Cherington when compared with the clashes he had with team officials in New York and during his six seasons in Japan.

“I think Ben has done a fabulous job, I really do,” Valentine said.

But there is an underlying tension that goes back to last fall, when Valentine emerged as a candidate to replace Francona only after Cherington’s first choice, Dale Sveum, was rejected by ownership.

The Sox strive to be unified, but often come off as anything but. Last month, when left fielder Carl Crawford was given a day off, Valentine said it was part of a program mandated by the trainers. Crawford denied any knowledge of it and Cherington said it was up to Valentine to pick the day off.

The cloudiness has become exasperating for all involved.

“What you want is when the players hit the field, for there to be as little distraction as possible and for expectations to be as clear as possible. The expectation part is communicated mostly by the staff,” Cherington said.

“When the staff is working together well, there’s a better chance of that happening.”

Instead, the Red Sox are on pace to finish with a losing record for the first time since 1997. Cherington, who replaced Theo Epstein 10 months ago, said the communication has to improve for the results to follow.

“We need to be better. We need to collectively be better,” Cherington said. “You can’t keep staring at the same thing and hoping it gets better. It needs to get better and it’s our job to make it better.

“Change doesn’t necessarily mean personnel change. But we need to look at how we’re doing things and find a better way.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.
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