Catching up with Saltalamacchia and Varitek
posted at 7/1/2011 12:04 PM EDT
From an article at WEEI.com:
The pregame image is distinct from what transpires in the rest of the clubhouse. While a good majority of the Red Sox
players alternate their time before a game between workouts, treatment and relaxing, Jarrod Saltalmacchia and Jason Varitek
are seemingly in constant motion.
The pair of Red Sox catchers move like they don't have enough minutes in the day. Hitting. Catching. Coordinating. Studying. Three hours before first pitch only means the duo can't afford to waste the next 180 minutes.
The approach is paying off.
What once was a hot topic in the midst of the Red Sox' April uneasiness -- the Red Sox catching situation -- has disappeared into the place where all things positive go to rest. It would be fair to say that Bengie Molina's name has been mentioned for the last time when it comes to fixing the Sox.
"The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence," said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "We've got confidence in the guys. They had to understand it was just 40 at-bats at the beginning of the season, and while those 40 at-bats might not have been pretty, you're preaching for them to believe in the process. And as a coach you have to believe in the process and that it is going to turn around."
And turn around it did.
The latest punctuation on the resurgence of the Red Sox' catching situation came during the team's 5-2 win over the Phillies Thursday afternoon. Jason Varitek -- hitting as high as fifth for the first time since 2007 -- launched a pair of home runs over the Citizens Bank Park right field fence.
The offensive output made some stand up and notice what had been quietly one of the Sox' best success stories of the season.
By the time April ended, Varitek was hitting .111, while Saltalamacchia stood at .216. Talks of prospects, Molina and some Russell Martin what-could-have-beens circulated through the airwaves. There were questions regarding who could catch certain pitchers, and how the Sox were possibly going to survive a season with the 38-year-old and an unproven backstop.
Now, as we sit here exactly two months later, reality has turned 180 degrees.
Since May 1, Varitek has the second-best OPS (.935) of any catcher, while Saltalamacchia stands at No. 8 (.846). In that time the captain's batting average is .309, with his protege coming in at .270.
Overall, for the season, the catching duo has presented the Red Sox with one of the best sources of catching production in the majors. They are fifth in slugging percentage (.428), seventh in OPS (.755), 11th in batting average (.252) and take the sixth-most pitches per plate appearance of any catching combination (4.05).
Saltalamacchia: 50 games; 162 at-bats; .253 batting average; 5 HRs; .752 OPS; 3.89 pitches per plate appearance.
Varitek: 38 games; 117 at-bats; .248 batting average; 5 HRs; .752 OPS; 4.25 pitches per plate appearance.
"Just a lot of hard work on both their parts," Magadan said. "With Salty, it was just slowing down, getting him to take deep breaths between pitches and calming him down so he's under control and not swinging at max effort all the time. He's dangerous.
"Tek, what he's done since I've been here is be able to switch from catching every day to physically feel stronger with the rotation. I think he feels confident. I thought he looked very confident last year before he got hurt. You couple it with the way he did last year and this is as good as I've seen him in a while."
And, defensively, there has been a sense of steadiness since some April uncertainty. Saltalamacchia has thrown out 18.2 percent of the runners attempting to steal (10-of-45), while Varitek is at 18.4 percent (7-of-31). While the efficiency isn't league-leading, it is an upgrade on the everyday numbers turned in by Victor Martinez (14.7 percent) last season.
In all, the two players have made catching one less thing the Red Sox have to worry.
"They've worked at it," said Magadan, "and now it's paying off."