Is it possible that Pedro Martinez is the gift that keeps on giving to the Boston Red Sox? If so, the Dodgers might one day regret trading away Rubby De La Rosa the way they rued trading Martinez 21 years ago.
Martinez is retired, of course, but it turns out he left his mark on De La Rosa, the right-handed pitching prospect the Red Sox acquired as part of August's megatrade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. De La Rosa, who grew up in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, has known the Martinez brothers, Ramon and Pedro, since he was a child. His grandmother, he said Friday at the Red Sox rookie development camp at Harvard University, served as nanny to Ramon and Pedro when they were little, and he has kept in touch since.
He probably talks more with Ramon now than Pedro, he said, but in 2008 Pedro imparted a special gift to the then-teenage De La Rosa, who turns 24 in March. Martinez taught De La Rosa his changeup, a pitch that Martinez threw with few equals.
De La Rosa knows how good the pitch was in Martinez's hands.
"I don't watch a lot of baseball," he said, "but all the time Pedro pitched, I watched all the time. I had to watch what he did. I want to be like him every time. When I grew up, I watched him all the time, and I was him when I played video games and everything."
And now, De La Rosa says matter-of-factly, he has mastered the Martinez changeup. If true, given that he also has thrown a fastball clocked at 100 mph even after Tommy John surgery, De La Rosa might stir some of the excitement his idol did.
"He taught me the grip," said De La Rosa, who is listed at 5-foot-11 but is stockier than Martinez was at the same age (though De La Rosa weighed just 130 pounds when the Dodgers signed him for $15,000). "I've learned how to throw it to both sides of the plate, to left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters. I really command the pitch. I can throw it inside to lefties.
"Ninety percent of my strikeouts come on my changeup. I throw the changeup at three different speeds -- 94 miles an hour, 88 and 78."
De La Rosa has two other pitches in his arsenal -- a slider he throws to right-handed hitters, and a curveball to lefties.
It remains to be seen, of course, how De La Rosa will fare against big league hitters. He made his big league debut with the Dodgers as a 22-year-old starter in 2011, going 3-4 with a 3.71 ERA and striking out 60 batters in 60 2/3 innings. But he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on Aug. 9, 2011.
Less than 13 months later, he was back in the big leagues after throwing a dozen scoreless innings on rehab assignments to two teams in the lower minors. He made one appearance for the Dodgers; two days later, on the day the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, the Dodgers optioned De La Rosa to Double-A San Antonio.
The Dodgers and Red Sox had agreed De La Rosa would be one of the players to be named later in the deal, along with another starting pitcher of promise, Allen Webster. Because they had not passed through waivers, the teams had to wait to make their inclusion official.
De La Rosa made just two appearances in Double-A Chattanooga after the trade, pitching a total of one inning, as the teams honored a gentleman's agreement to keep him out of harm's way.
"At Double-A, I couldn't do nothing. Just run, condition, work out," he said. "That was sad for me. I wanted to go home. I talked to my agent and said, 'I want to go home, because this is bad. Everybody is playing and I'm not playing.' So I needed to focus on other things. It was a bad experience for me."
His mood lifted, however, when his involvement in the trade was officially announced and he joined the Red Sox. He has been working out near his home in Arizona and should be ready for the start of spring training, though he said Friday the team has not yet allowed him to throw off a mound.
"Everything -- my body, my elbow -- feels great," he said. "I feel very strong."
The chances that he could emerge out of camp as a member of the starting rotation?
"For me, I think always 100 percent," he said. "That's my dream, to start. But that's not my decision. If the team wants me to relieve, I'll relieve."
It's possible the Sox will prefer that De La Rosa begin the season at Triple-A Pawtucket, to give his elbow a chance to build up even more. But they are pleased with the progress he has made.
"He looks good," said director of player development Ben Crockett. "He's definitely been ready with his throwing program. You can tell he's been working hard on the arm strength. He told us he's been throwing for quite a while, and it shows -- really quick arm, the ball is jumping out. He's aggressive and confident with that throwing program. He's mixing in some of his off-speed [pitches], and he looks like he's ready to compete.
"Obviously, he's had some success at the major league level and has plenty of stuff to pitch up there. I think we just need to see a little bit more of him this spring training to make that judgment."