Schoeneweis is on a mission
He has a week to show the Red Sox his value in the bullpen
FORT MYERS , Fla. -- He has been given one week to convince the Red Sox to employ him, just days after the only team willing to give him a chance this spring released him.
The job: Getting left-handed hitters out.
The candidate: Scott Schoeneweis, a 36-year-old left-hander who brings with him a history of strong work against lefties, Boston family ties, and a tragic tale.
The odds: Schoeneweis has been around long enough to know they are not in his favor.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi"It's kind of a neat thing. I've almost been here a number of times and finally, at least for a week, I'll get to say I was a Red Sox," says Scott Schoeneweis.
But whatever happens, Schoeneweis wants it to be based solely on what he does on the mound, which he contended was not the case when the Milwaukee Brewers released him last Tuesday. Their decision, he insisted at the time, was not performance-based, but related to the circumstances of his wife's death last May, leaving the grief-stricken husband with four children in his care.
"I'm a big-league player," he said when he was released. "My wife died last year. That has nothing to do with me as a baseball player. To have to start over and be penalized doesn't make sense to me."
Last May, while Schoeneweis was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, his wife, Gabrielle, was found dead in their home. Schoenweis went to court to suppress the cause of death from being made public, arguing that it would cause emotional distress for his family. He lost that court battle, and an Arizona appellate court revealed in December that Gabrielle Schoeneweis had died of a drug overdose, a combination of cocaine and the anesthetic lidocaine.
The Diamondbacks did not re-sign him after the season, one in which he took a three-week bereavement leave. When he came back, he pitched poorly, allowing 15 earned runs in 9 innings, and in August the Diamondbacks placed him on the disabled list for what they termed was depression.
"Obviously this has been an incredibly difficult year," Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes said at the time. "He's done everything he could to deal with a tragedy and to keep playing. At this point, we felt it was a bit overwhelming. He needed a break from it."
Schoeneweis returned in early September, but after the season the Diamondbacks did not re-sign him and he filed for free agency. There is usually a market for healthy left-handed relievers, but Schoeneweis did not get a nibble until the Brewers signed him to a minor-league deal a week before the start of training camp.
He admitted after signing that Milwaukee would not have been his first choice, but the Brewers trained in Arizona, which allowed him to stay home. He had a 7.71 ERA in seven appearances this spring, but felt he had pitched well enough to win a job. After the Brewers let him go, he said, the Red Sox called.
With the Sox in Florida, he said he needed a little time before leaving.
"I can't just split out the door. I took a couple days to work it out. When I picked up my kids from school, and left in the morning as a Brewer, I didn't want to say 'Daddy is leaving for Florida tomorrow.' It took me a day or two and here I am," he said.
And now it's about winning a job.
"I'm the same baseball player I was two years ago, back when I was getting paid a lot of money to do what I do,'' he said. "The only thing that has changed is my home situation. I'm not hurt. I'm very healthy. I'm in great shape. I'm a little older, but I feel like I'm back and maybe even better just because of the stress and the off-the-field stuff that has been going on for a number of years."
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Friday that one of the main factors in the competition for the final two roster spots in the bullpen "is being able to match up left on left" and that "the most effective pitcher getting left-handed hitters out will be factored in." He called it an open competition among Alan Embree, Scott Atchison, Joe Nelson and now Schoeneweis.
Schoeneweis has an April 15 opt-out clause in his contract, which calls for a base salary of $500,000 if he makes the club, but both he and manager Terry Francona said that they expect a decision by the end of the week.
"I'm here to get ready to go to Boston,'' he said. "Any type of doubt about me and what happened with me [personally] last year and everything is kind of behind. My family is in a good spot. I'm in a good place. I feel better than I've felt in the last three or four years."
Embree worked against major league hitters for the first time Saturday against the Orioles, going 2/3 innings and allowing three earned runs and one walk in a 22-pitch outing. Schoeneweis, meanwhile, threw a side session in Fort Myers.
Both Embree and Schoeneweis are scheduled to pitch Monday.
"One thing he's been able to do is get left-handers out. That was the report that came out of Brewers camp," Francona said of Schoeneweis. "We're just trying to cover everything. We have Alan here. We know it's going to be a short look [with Schoeneweis] and that's why we're trying not to mess around and prolong it. We want him to be able to get out there and pitch a few times so we can make some good decisions."
Schoeneweis has multiple connections with New England. His mother grew up in Newton. As a child, his father took him to his first Red Sox game, where he missed getting a foul ball that landed in his seat because he'd gone to the bathroom. His cousin is Jeremy Kapstein, the Sox senior adviser. While at Duke, he played summer ball for Chatham in the Cape Cod League.
"I think career-wise, I've pitched really well in that ballpark,'' said Schoeneweis, who in his career has held opposing batters to a .214 batting average and .299 slugging percentage at Fenway. "There is a reason for it. It's special to me. I don't get too excited about things until I'm actually there, but I feel good, and I really feel like I deserve to be in the big leagues somewhere.
"It's come full circle. It's kind of a neat thing. I've almost been here a number of times and finally, at least for a week, I'll get to say I was a Red Sox."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston and checks on the Red Sox occasionally. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag. Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.
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