PAWTUCKET — Never has a trip to the principal’s office been more soothing and reassuring.
Score one for PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina for putting out the fire before it engulfed the clubhouse he oversees. There was a delicate situation that needed to be addressed with several Pawtucket players, and DiSarcina handled every last conversation with aplomb.
“That’s what the job of a manager is. You have to manage those people,” stated DiSarcina matter-of-factly.
That was exactly the aim of the first-year skipper last Thursday, a day awash in activity despite the Sons of DiSarcina getting rained out. One new face (Xander Bogaerts) and one familiar one (Alex Hassan) had been added to Pawtucket’s roster. The additions were followed by a paper trail that traced back to the locker stalls of several position players – ones who stood on the threshold of seeing their roles change.
One by one, the ballplayers most affected by the wave of newcomers were summoned into DiSarcina’s McCoy Stadium office. Seeking to provide a dose of levity to a matter that on the periphery seemed tense, one PawSox ballplayer shouted, “Who’s next to step inside the principal’s office?” upon wrapping up his face-to-face discussion with the messenger (DiSarcina).
The fact that nary a single PawSox exited DiSarcina’s office with a sour face suggests that the message was conveyed in pitch-perfect fashion. Why? Try explaining to a group of men in their mid-to-late 20s that they are being pushed aside for reasons that are beyond even the manager’s control.
As DiSarcina explained a few days after the remodelers turned his pseudo principal’s office back into one befitting his job description, honesty is the best policy.
“Ultimately, it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s not a tough one. When you have honest conversations, that’s not tough. It is when you start trying to spin things and pull the wool over their eyes. The players are smart and they know the gig, so it just becomes a little more uncomfortable,” DiSarcina said. “These guys are grown men. It’s not tough, but it can be uncomfortable because I’ve been with these guys – Drew (Sutton), (Jeremy) Hazelbaker, (Brandon) Snyder, (Justin) Henry, (Jonathan) Diaz – since Day 1, so I have a sense of loyalty towards them.
“The bottom line is that it’s a business, and this kid (Bogaerts) has come up and he’s going to play shortstop six days out of the week. He’s going to get the bulk of the playing time,” he continued. “I don’t like to use the term, ‘changing their roles.’ It just pinches their playing time a little bit. Whether they’re used to playing four or five days a week, they’re probably now going to play two or three days depending on the situation.”
DiSarcina made sure to let the players who find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place know that if they have concerns, see him. The door is always open.
“If they’re going to be bitter and upset, come in here. Don’t start sniping or coming in with a bad attitude,” he said. “I have thick skin. If you’re upset at me, give it to me, but it’s not going to change. Xander Bogaerts is the No. 1 prospect in this organization. They know what’s he’s capable of. They know Alex Hassan is on the 40-man roster. He’s a priority and he’s got to play.
“Ultimately, what they do know is that it’s above me. I can be their sounding board, though,” DiSarcina added. “I played the game so I know that it stinks to have 3-4 days off. You lose your timing and all that stuff. Also with guys at this level, they’re thinking about next year. They don’t want to go into the offseason with 40 games played.”
DiSarcina mentioned that he benefited from watching pitching coach Rich Sauveur and how he dealt with Chris Hernandez and Terry Doyle. Both began the year in the starting rotation before relocating to the bullpen. Last Friday saw Doyle draw a start after Rubby De La Rosa was summoned to Boston. It was Doyle’s first mound assignment of any kind in eight days.
“Rich knows the best way to do it is to be upfront with them,” said DiSarcina. “You can’t hide the fact that someone hasn’t pitched in six days, so when they come to you, you’d better have an answer.”
Perhaps the one Pawtucket player who has the good-soldier routine down pat is Diaz. The 28-year-old was the starting second baseman on opening night before moving over to shortstop the next day. He only appeared in 12 games the rest of the month as the return of Jose Iglesias from Boston resulted in a reduced role.
The month of May brought with it more opportunities for Diaz. In 22 games, he batted .307 with a .429 on-base percentage. Now with Bogaerts on board, Diaz finds himself back on the bench.
If DiSarcina had any doubts about how Diaz would once again handle inconsistent playing time – heading into Wednesday’s game at Columbus, Diaz has appeared in exactly half of the six games Pawtucket has played since Bogaerts joined the fold – they were answered during the second game of last Friday’s doubleheader against Buffalo.
“He was down in the bullpen and ready to throw,” DiSarcina shared. “The direct correlation of his batting average rising is with his playing time rising. He’s a special guy and I enjoy having him on the team.
“I’ll go look for Diaz in the sixth or seventh inning and he’ll walk by me and say, ‘Hey, I’m just getting my legs loose if you need a pinch runner,’” DiSarcina delved further. “(Red Sox manager John Farrell and bench coach Torey Lovullo) spoke highly of him and their words have rung true.”
There are ways for DiSarcina to manipulate the roster – providing he receives a heads-up. An outfielder, Hazelbaker informed the manager that he has family in Columbus. Was there a way to make something happen? Apparently Hazelbaker’s request did not fall on deaf ears; the 25-year-old appeared in the first three games of the current four-game set against the Clippers.
DiSarcina has a specific program on his computer that keeps tabs on playing time. The log is self-explanatory. Those deemed as priorities, a la Bogaerts and Hassan, are going to see their name on the lineup card more often than not.
As for the other guys, the ones who are being asked to take a back seat, rest assured that they are far from forgotten.
“These guys are all professionals, especially when it comes to Sutton, Snyder, Diaz and Henry,” DiSarcina said. “They understand and make it easier on me.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03