Tough love kept Delcarmen on track

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Manny Delcarmen was no different from most 20-somethings. He liked cars, he liked baseball and he liked to have fun -- maybe too much fun.

The Boston native, and current Red Sox relief pitcher, was in the midst of his minor league development while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket in the early portion of 2007 when a pair of incidents -- one on the field and one off the field -- changed his career.

Off the field, Delcarmen and Red Sox first-round pick and fellow reliever Craig Hansen were very close friends. They both lived in Boston and commuted to Pawtucket, R.I., every day. Their PawSox teammates gave them the nicknames "Beavis" and "Butthead" because of all the zany things they did together.

On one particular day in April that season, the rest of the team was on the field for batting practice, but Delcarmen and Hansen were nowhere to be found. Turns out they were weaving and racing in and out of traffic on the highway on their way to McCoy Stadium when they were pulled over for speeding.

Then-PawSox manager Ron Johnson, who is now the first base coach for the Red Sox, dealt with the situation accordingly.

A few weeks later, on May 5 in Buffalo, the PawSox were leading the Bisons by eight runs going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Johnson handed the ball over to Hansen, a hard-throwing right-hander who was the team's closer at the time. He faced seven batters, all of whom eventually scored.

Delcarmen entered the game and inherited the mess left by his buddy, and subsequently allowed two hits and walked two. Beavis and Butthead had allowed nine total runs and Pawtucket lost 15-14.

Johnson had enough.

"RJ was screaming at the both of us," said Delcarmen.

As Delcarmen remembers the story, Johnson told both of them to start acting like professionals because the organization had too much invested in their futures.

Johnson remembers the situation a little differently.

He said he pulled each player aside and read him the riot act. Johnson normally doesn't use that type of motivation, but this time he felt it was warranted.

"It went straight to the playground, like grabbing a guy, saying, 'Are you [expletive] me?' It was kind of one of those emotional things without a typical and formal meeting. It was like what you do with your kids where you grab him and say, 'Get over here. Are you kidding me?' But it was sincere from my standpoint because it was very hard for me to comprehend a person with that ability not using it to his full potential.

"It was telling your kids to pick up their laundry and pick up their room. It was like 'Come here you son-of-a-[expletive], are you kidding me?' I don't think I've had that many player meetings that were that direct, and were totally eliminated of any chosen words of wisdom. It was really remedial and really in laymen terms."

Delcarmen thought his world was unraveling. It turned out to be the best experience from his minor league days, and helped him become a full-time member of the relief staff in Boston. The Red Sox eventually traded Hansen to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of a three-team deal that sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles and Jason Bay to Boston.

"Manny's such an important part of this ballclub," said Johnson. "I've always been a big fan of Delcarmen's. I've always said his stuff was really good. He's pretty dependable if you look at what he's done over the last few years. Everyone always knew he had really good stuff. Looking at him now, he's become so professional to where he was, say, four years ago when he was just coming up to Triple-A."

With the adolescent behavior a thing of the past, Delcarmen has been a fixture in the Red Sox's bullpen. He's faced adversity during his big league career and has had bouts of inconsistency in key situations.

His stuff can be absolutely electric, or it can be the complete opposite. He used to be that kid who wanted to strike everyone out with his 98 mph fastball, but the last few years he's learned how to pitch, and knows that a ground ball is just as good as a strikeout.

It's clear the 6-foot-2 Delcarmen has bulked up during the offseason after he posted a 5-2 record with a 4.53 ERA in 64 appearances in 2009. He walked 34 and struck out 44 in 59 2/3 innings of work during that stretch.

"I'm actually a slim 210 pounds," he said jokingly. "My wife's cooking must be good. I kept the same offseason program and definitely pushed my throwing up a little because I felt I needed a little more rest this winter. I feel great and feel great on the mound. I'm ready to go."

He was one of the first pitchers to arrive at camp this winter after he and the Sox avoided arbitration this offseason. The right-hander was given a one-year, $905,000 contract with a $15,000 bonus if he makes 65 appearances.

"It's good," he said of the deal. "I'm just excited for the season to start. I'm pretty excited about this team, too."

Sox manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell have already noticed a difference in Delcarmen this spring, and the staff is hoping that translates into consistent production during the regular season.

"He's throwing the ball good," said Farrell. "We're seeing some good life coming from his arm. He's flashed some good fastballs that had some good power to them and he's showing a good feel for his changeup. He's doing a good job of staying online as far as throwing the ball in to righties, or away from a lefty, and that was one of the keys for him coming into camp. He's doing everything we expected, at least in these first 10 days."

Farrell was quick to point out the success Delcarmen enjoyed during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, but acknowledged that he's still been inconsistent at times. The Red Sox want him to be able to pitch multiple innings, and have the confidence to face both lefties and righties with equal effectiveness.

"He's doing a much better job of bringing a level of concentration to the game mound," said Farrell. "We don't see the fluctuation from outing to outing in concentration and focus. Manny's done a much better job, as he's gotten to know the importance of his role and every pitch he throws, particularly in key spots. He's been a key member of our bullpen and he'll continue to be."

Every season Delcarmen's name seems to come up in trade talks, but he's been very thankful that hasn't come to fruition.

Both Delcarmen and Johnson still talk about that day in May of 2007, and how that event changed the pitcher's career for the better. Johnson even remembers the last thing he said to Delcarmen in Buffalo.

"I told him, 'I don't know what you're doing, but you suck and you need to fix it.' I'll tell you what, I tip my hat to him because he did."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.