David Cone spent most of his career pitching in New York, seven seasons with the Mets and six with the Yankees. But growing up in Missouri, it was Red Sox ace Luis Tiant who caught his eye.
“Luis was my guy,” Cone said. “Watching that 1975 World Series, he was so exotic in his windup and mannerisms. As a 12-year-old playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, I immediately went back there and was Luis Tiant. I started copying him. He inspired me.”
Cone eventually did play for the Red Sox near the end of his career, in 2001. It was a tumultuous season that saw the Sox in first place on July 2 before a summer swoon led to the firing of manager Jimy Williams and missing the playoffs.
“I remember pitching to Jason Varitek early in that season before he got hurt and being teammates with Pedro Martinez. Talking to him was remarkable,” Cone said.
“I had tremendous respect for Tim Wakefield, the way he was bounced back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation and took it the way he did. And I thought John Valentin didn’t get enough credit for how good of a hitter he was at that point.”
Cone was 10-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 19 career starts at Fenway Park and counts it as one of his favorite places to pitch.
“The intimacy, the Monster, the fans, the knowledge of the fans, and the way they love good pitching,” Cone said. “It was a great place to pitch. It felt like you were right on top of the hitter because the backstop is so close.”
Cone will be back at Fenway on Sunday night, working with Karl Ravech and Eduardo Pérez for the ESPN broadcast of the Cardinals-Red Sox game.
Here are his thoughts on the changes in baseball this season, the evolution in pitching, and other topics:
How much has the pitch timer changed pitching? “I see that rhythm is a big part of it now. Tempo and rhythm are back in vogue again instead of the maximum-effort style that we have seen quite a bit of the last few years.
“Getting into a good rhythm matters again. It’s to the pitcher’s advantage to get into a good rhythm and put the onus on the hitter. You also get good defense played behind you, as well. Everybody’s ready; everybody’s on their toes. Your team loves you if you can get them in the dugout to swing the bats because that’s what they love to do.”
Is pitching creatively different now with all the tech and analysis available? “There’s so much information in terms of pitch design. I look at a guy like Sonny Gray, who’s having a great year for Minnesota, and he has superb pitching design, in my mind. It’s as if he has three different pitches to righthanded batters and three different pitches to lefthanded batters. That’s all a product of pitch design.
“In some ways, the creativity has never been better. The flip side of that is that pitchers are still chasing velocity. Young pitchers, in order to get noticed, to get scholarships, to get signed professionally, they need to chase velocity.
“On the big league level in pitch design I’m seeing a lot of creativity. It encompasses all the technology. The movement profile, the spin rate, the way you can orient the seams now to get that sweeping slider effect. To me, it’s exciting. I wish I had that information when I pitched.”
Should Garrett Whitlock be a starter or a reliever for the Red Sox? “He has three pitches. To me, that’s the key. His slider has really improved. He was a fastball/changeup guy originally. That his slider improved made me think he could be a starter.
“Now the question is, physically can he hold up? In some respects, starting pitching can be more predictable. Obviously, you get more recovery time in between. If he can settle into that 100 pitches-plus every five days, that can be easier in some respects.
“There’s uncertainty in relieving. If you’re going to be a multi-inning reliever, how many days do you need to recover? The manager may be tempted to use you every other day, maybe you don’t get enough time to recover. It’s a delicate balance.
“Starters are so hard to find these days. If they believe he can be pretty close to a front-line guy, at least a No. 3 or better, then that is extremely valuable. It seems like you find relievers much easier than you can starters.”
As an announcer, has the pitch timer made your job harder? “Definitely. You’re in and out and replays are more difficult. It’s hard to get them in sometimes. The timing gets thrown off. Being concise is something that is needed.”
Can Chris Sale be a top starter again? “In his last start, he looked like he had much more conviction with his delivery, much more confidence. There’s something about the ability to just let it go that shows up on the mound in body language.
“You could tell in his first couple of starts that he was kind of feeling for it. There’s a look that you have when you have confidence on the mound, and he’s got it back.”
Would you want to try a different role in baseball outside of broadcasting? “I think this is probably it. I have too much respect for coaches who pay their dues and spend time in the minor leagues and earn their way to the big leagues. The guys who try and jump out of the booth and right into a big league job, to me that’s a difficult thing. It’s been done. But that would be tough for me at 60 years old.
“You never say never. Maybe a consulting position at some point. That’s something I would definitely consider.”
ROAD TO 400
Jansen found way behind the scenes
Kenley Jansen pitched only 5⅔ innings against other teams in spring training. He preferred facing minor league hitters on Field 1 behind the stadium at Fenway South, using the time to throw as many pitches as he wanted.
With only a few people watching, Jansen worked on changing his notoriously slow delivery to adhere to the pitch timer and getting his cutter slicing across the plate.
“I’ll know when I’m ready by how the ball moves,” Jansen said one day in March. “This is the best way for me.”
But wouldn’t facing major league hitters offer more feedback?
“If I pitch the way I can, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll know.”
Jansen was right. He’s been largely a lockdown closer and such a good teammate that the other Red Sox players were delighted to help celebrate his 400th career save this past week.
The Sox were well prepared for the milestone. The team produced a video tribute that included Jansen’s wife and children, his parents, and an assortment of teammates and friends, including Clayton Kershaw (the winning pitcher when Jansen recorded his first save in 2010), Russell Martin, Eric Gagne, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, and Joe Torre.
It was capped by a few words from Andruw Jones, the player Jansen grew up idolizing.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Nick Pivetta is 4-10 with a 6.09 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 24 starts going back to last July. Of the 72 pitchers with at least 24 starts in that period, he has the highest ERA and the second-highest WHIP.
In short, he’s been the worst starter in the game for an extended period. Yet the Sox plan to keep Pivetta in the rotation to face the Mariners on Tuesday.
In what is now Chaim Bloom’s fourth season in charge, this is the best they can do?
Pivetta was a savvy pickup from the Phillies in 2020, a useful arm in exchange for relievers Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman.
But Pivetta has always profiled as a better fit in the bullpen. He’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher who’s not afraid to challenge hitters.
▪ The Athletics, Royals, Rockies, Nationals, Reds, and White Sox are the worst teams in baseball based on the standings. We’ll exclude the Cardinals from this list as their record belies their talent.
The Sox have yet to play any of those teams but will 28 times before the season is over, with 16 of those games at home.
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, the Rays are already 17-2 against those bad teams.
For the Sox to have a shot at the postseason, those are opponents they must take advantage of. 18-10? 17-11? It has to be decisive.
▪ Baseball America projects the Red Sox will take lefthander Thomas White of Phillips Academy Andover in the first round of the draft.
That’s a bold call considering the Sox have taken a high school infielder from California three years in a row.
White would be an interesting choice on several fronts. He may be the best lefty in the draft. It also would be a departure for the Sox, who have not selected a pitcher above the third round since Tanner Houck was their first-round pick in 2017.
The Sox have not taken a high school player from New England in the first round since 1999, when outfielder Rick Asadoorian (Northbridge High School in Whitinsville) was their choice. He topped out at Triple A.
▪ Righthander CJ Liu saw a string of 13 consecutive hitless innings over three games come to an end on Thursday. The 24-year-old from Taiwan is 3-2 with a 3.60 ERA in six starts for Double A Portland, reclaiming prospect status after two uneven seasons.
Liu was signed in 2019 after converting from shortstop in college.
Ex-ace Harvey calls it a career
Matt Harvey was selected as the winner of the Ben Mondor Award as the New England player of the year by the Boston chapter of the BBWAA in 2013.
He was 24 at the time, a first-time All-Star from Mystic, Conn., who was the toast of New York as the ace of the Mets.
Harvey was recovering from Tommy John surgery but attended the awards dinner, stuck around to mingle with guests, and signed dozens of autographs.
He seemed like a player with the world at his feet. But Harvey went 38-56 with a 5.09 ERA over the rest of his career and retired earlier this month at 34.
Injuries, assorted tabloid controversies with the Mets, then his involvement in the drug scandal following the overdose death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs in 2019 marked Harvey’s career more than his early success. His vast potential went unfulfilled.
There are a lot more tomorrows than yesterdays at 34. Hopefully, the well-mannered young man who attended that banquet finds his way.
Eduardo Rodriguez could be the big prize of the trade deadline. The 30-year-old lefthander is 4-2 with a 1.57 ERA through eight starts for the Tigers — 4-0, 0.43 in the last six. Rodriguez has the right to opt out of the final three seasons and $49 million of his contract after this season. If he pitches well into July, Detroit may not have much choice but to trade him or risk seeing walk as a free agent and getting only draft compensation in return … Big moment in baseball history on Monday night when Diego Castillo of the Tacoma Rainiers struck out Diego Castillo of the Reno Aces in a Triple A game. Diego Seguí and Rusney Castillo could not be reached for comment … Reds shortstop prospect Elly De La Cruz, a 21-year-old playing in Triple A, has wowed scouts with his power, arm, and speed. He had a double with an exit velocity of 118.8 miles per hour this past week and on the same night hit two home runs and drew a bases-loaded walk to win the game. Cruz was signed for a modest $68,000 out of the Dominican Republic and grew 4 inches to 6-5 while getting faster. The Reds aren’t sure if he’ll end up at third base or shortstop and he needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but Cincinnati has its version of injured Pirates phenom Oneil Cruz … Joey Votto has not played for the Reds since Aug. 16, 2022, and won’t be on the field again any time soon. His recovery from shoulder surgery has been slow and included Cincinnati stopping a rehab assignment after 10 games last month. At 39 and in the final year of his contract, this is not what anybody wanted to see for one of the game’s best and most colorful players … The injury concerns teams had for Carlos Rodón when he became a free agent after the 2021 season limited his market. That seemed to vanish when he posted a 2.88 ERA over 31 starts for the Giants last season and the Yankees went all in at six years, $162 million when he became a free agent. Now Rodon has yet to pitch because of a back injury and is seeking other medical opinions. At best, he’s a month away and it’s likely to be longer … When Masataka Yoshida’s hit streak reached 16 games, he became the sixth player from Japan to hit that mark. That group included Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Shohei Ohtani. The amazing part? Ichiro had hit streaks of at least 16 games on 13 occasions during his career … Mookie Betts rented an Airbnb in Milwaukee rather than stay at the supposedly haunted Pfister Hotel when the Dodgers were in town. He told reporters he couldn’t sleep there in previous visits. The Red Sox stayed at the Pfister in April and reported no ghosts … On April 20, the Athletics announced a “binding” agreement to buy 49 acres near Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to build a new ballpark. On Tuesday came word that the Athletics agreed to buy 30 acres where the aging Tropicana Las Vegas now sits to build that ballpark. Only this time it would rely on $350 million in public financing instead of $500 million. That’s now six sites owner John Fisher has proposed for a new ballpark, including rebuilding at the Oakland Coliseum location. At what point does MLB step in and take control of the situation? … Deacon Jones, who died at the age of 89 last weekend, played only 40 major league games from 1962-66. But his impact on baseball and people in the game lasted for decades. After his playing career, Jones went on to work for the White Sox, Astros, Padres, and Orioles in different capacities until 2008. He then became a fixture with the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent team in Texas that has since become the Triple A affiliate of the Astros … Happy 81st birthday to Tony Pérez, who played for the Red Sox from 1980-82 on his way to the Hall of Fame. “Doggie” hit 40 of his 379 career home runs for the Sox before returning to the Reds to finish his career … Happy Mother’s Day to all, especially the dedicated baseball moms out there.