When the lineups were announced on Tuesday night for the Red Sox' game in Baltimore with the Orioles, one thing noticeably stood out. Jason Varitek was in the lineup and catching for right-hander Clay Buchholz.
It was a curious decision for a ballclub that spent much of the offseason and spring training insisting that Jarrod Saltalamacchia was going to be the starting catcher, especially considering it was usually Saltalamacchia who catches Buchholz.
And now, here we are in the last week of April, with what could easily be called a catching platoon. With Varitek likely getting the start on Wednesday as well, you could even start to argue that Varitek is working his way back into the starting role.
That makes sense, to an extent. Even with the loss on Tuesday on the heels of Buchholz's 12-hit outing, the Red Sox are still 6-3 in games Varitek starts. They had won his last five starts entering the series opener. You ride the hot hand; that makes sense.
But, the Red Sox have to be careful how frequently they do that, especially early on.
When the Red Sox stumbled out of the gates, a lot of the blame was placed on the pitching staff. And since it was Saltalamacchia doing the bulk of the catching, a lot of the blame was placed on him, although it's pretty safe to assume he was not calling for belt-high fastballs down the middle third of the plate.
Slowly, as much of New England started to point at Saltalamacchia as one of the chief reasons for the aforementioned struggles, Varitek started seeing his name on the lineup card more often.
With Tuesday's decision to start Varitek -- with Varitek likely getting the nod on Wednesday, too, with Josh Beckett on the mound -- it looks like Terry Francona is not afraid to give Varitek more and more starts.
Even while the strongest Saltalamacchia defenders would have to acknowledge the success that Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka have with Varitek behind the plate warrants some sort of a split, having Varitek behind the plate for a Buchholz start has to send some sort of red flag.
The Red Sox are walking a line when it comes to the catching situation. They're going to need to be careful of how much they play Varitek with it still being early in the season.
For starters, if they think that Saltalamacchia is still going to be the guy going forward, he's going to have to play at some point. He's never going to get better at calling games while sitting on the bench, and he's not going to develop any sort of rhythm at the plate. And while the sample size is small, Saltalamacchia is starting to come around some.
He struggled at the plate on Sunday in Anaheim, but he was the recipient of an absolute gem from John Lackey. In fact, in the last four games with Saltalamacchia behind the plate, Red Sox starting pitchers have given up just two earned runs. He also chipped in with four hits and three RBIs at the plate in that stretch, more offensive production than Varitek has had all season.
The Red Sox need to continue to try and build on that sort of production with Saltalamacchia calling the shots. They need to do so for not only his sake, but for Varitek's as well.
We've seen what happens to Varitek as the innings add up. He's a 39-year-old catcher, and not surprisingly, as the temperature rises, his production usually tends to drop.
What good does it do anyone to continue to potentially harm Saltalamacchia's confidence, rhythm and development while simultaneously wearing down Varitek in giving the majority of the starts to Varitek?
Varitek should www.nesn.com/2011/04/more-playing-time-for-jason-varitek-could-aid-red-sox-without-stunting-jarrod-saltalamacchias-growth.html" target="_blank">continue to get playing time, especially when Matsuzaka and Beckett are on the hill. But, the Red Sox must resist the temptation to go to the well of Varitek too much and too often -- for everyone's sake.