Veteran Nicaraguan pitcher and seasoned international troublemaker Vicente Padilla yesterday agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox for a $1.5 million minor league contract that includes an invitation to spring training next March.
Padilla, a hard-throwing and hard-drinking righty from Chinandega, told Nicaraguan reporters Monday night that he feels his 13-year pitching career in the Big Leagues has given him the tools and experience to become the Sox fifth starter in the 2012 season.
Padilla promised that he would work hard to earn a spot on Boston’s rotation, becoming the second Nicaraguan pitcher to play for the Red Sox after Devern Hansack, a native of Pearl Lagoon, posted a 2-2 record between 2006-2008.
Padilla’s erratic career has already been filled with numerous highs and lows—mostly by his own doing. Known as an aggressive and fearless pitcher who likes to throw at batters as much as the strike zone, Padilla is capable of delivering eyebrow-raising strikes and forehead-slapping folly, and oftentimes in the same inning.
At 34 years old (if you believe his official bio, which no one in Nicaragua does), Padilla is currently playing winter ball for his hometown Chinandega Tigers, where the 6-foot Nica is recovering his five-pitch repertoire after missing almost the entire season last year for the L.A. Dodgers. Now Padilla is showing his old pop, hitting 95-mph on the radar gun during his last start for Chinandega, despite getting tagged for 8 runs in the first four innings.
Though the Dodgers moved Padilla from a starter to a closer during his truncated 2011 season, where he converted three of four save opportunities in an unmemorable 8 2/3 innings before being placed on the DL for season-ending neck surgery, the veteran thinks he still has enough juice left in his moneymaker to return to the starting rotation in Boston. And he may be right, which says as much about Padilla as it does about Boston’s starting pitching.
When Padilla is healthy and behaving himself off the mound, he’s a workhorse capable of putting up big numbers. Three times in his career he has logged 200-plus innings and has 25 starts or more for six of his 13 seasons.
Padilla’s best season was in 2006 for the Texas Rangers, when he finished with a 15-10 record, notching 156 strikeouts and recording a 4.50 ERA. He also led the league in hit batsmen.
For the Red Sox, whose pitching woes are multiple, Padilla will be a wildcard.
Veteran Nicaraguan sportswriter Edgard Tijerino, the Nicaraguan Peter Gammons, says Boston is taking a risk on Padilla, whose body has matured faster than his head. Tijerino thinks Padilla’s combination of 93-95 mph fastball and truculence could make him effective either on the back end of the Sox rotation or out of the bullpen, preferably in middle relief.
Padilla’s real challenge, however, could come off the field.
After the Red Sox icarian fall from first place in 2011, their pitching staff, which apparently was more interested in beer and Play Station than chasing after a pennant, is in need of some new veteran leadership. Padilla, however, might be more wont to join the beer and Play Station crowd than motivate the younger guys to work harder.
Though Padilla has been around both leagues for more than a decade, he is a veteran in age more than behavior. His extracurricular activities—betting on cockfights, riding horses in Nicaraguan hipicas, shooting guns (sometimes into his leg), and drinking Johnny Walker Blue Label—seem pretty important to him.
In Boston more so than in other cities whose uniforms he has worn, Padilla will have to focus on baseball and push the other stuff aside until the offseason.
Boston media savvy
Padilla has been media shy—if not to say laconic and churlish— for most of his career. While at first baseball reporters chalked up Padilla’s behavior to his unfamiliarity with English, he’s pretty much the same way in Spanish.
The Nicaragua Dispatch called Padilla on his cell phone Monday night for comment, but when he heard a reporter was calling, he said it wasn’t him and quickly hung up.
While a lack of media savvy is excusable in smaller baseball markets and in cities that seem to have forgotten they have a professional baseball team (or a newspaper, for that matter), in sports talk-radio crazy Boston, Padilla could be in for a bumpy ride.
Boston is a town that loves big personalities like David “Big Papi” Ortiz, whose smile, charisma and heart is as big as his homerun swing. Padilla, who often sulks around with a dour look on his face, is on the other end of the Latino spectrum of media charm.
In fact, the closest Padilla ever gets to charismatic is when he rears back and throws the occasional 55-mph Eephus pitch.
Then again, that might be cool enough to make up for his lack of media personality if he can manage to throw an unexpected 3-2 Eephus pitch against a Yankee batter for a called third strike to win a complete game shutout in his Fenway debut.
But no pressure.