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He gets the call at home

Varitek makes smooth transition back to starter

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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He never has lacked for intensity, or cut back on his meticulous game preparation. Even when Jason Varitek found himself the backup catcher behind Victor Martinez, the Red Sox captain never allowed himself to be idle. There was always work to be done, whether it was in the bullpen, the batting cage, or on the bench charting pitches.

“He hasn’t changed his ways,’’ said starter Clay Buchholz. “He hasn’t changed how he goes over the [white lines], and that goes for when he’s not starting the game.’’

So when Martinez was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday after suffering a minimally-displaced fracture of his left thumb Sunday in San Francisco, Varitek was asked to reprise his role as the everyday catcher. Having played parts of 14 seasons in Boston, making him the second-longest tenured player on the roster, Varitek didn’t seem to miss a beat in an 8-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

John Lackey, who pitched seven innings against the Rays, allowing one run on eight hits, credited Varitek for calling a great game.

“I didn’t shake one time tonight,’’ Lackey said afterward. “His gameplan, his feel for the game, was pretty incredible. I just went with him. He’s seen these guys more times than I have. So I went with him and it worked out nicely.’’

Said Varitek, “I don’t know what to say about that. It’s my job to be on the same page with the guys as much as possible. Sometimes you’re not and sometimes you are. Depends on the guy. I can guarantee when I catch Clay, it’s not going to be like that, because that’s not the way Clay pitches. So everybody’s a little different.’’

It’s that knowledge of the Sox’ rotation and of the hitters in the American League East, in particular, that made it such a blessing for Boston to be able to replace Martinez with Varitek. It speaks to the depth of manager Terry Francona’s clubhouse when Varitek or Bill Hall can replace injured players such as Martinez and Dustin Pedroia, respectively, and produce, as Varitek and Hall did by driving in two runs each against the Rays.

“It could be a big deal to have to call up a younger guy with not a whole lot of experience,’’ Buchholz said. “Tek’s been here forever. He knows the Red Sox, he knows baseball, he knows how to catch, and he knows how to call a game. And he’s been hitting really well, too.’’

Varitek entered last night’s game hitting .261 with 7 homers and 16 RBIs. In his first start of the season, April 10 at Kansas City, Varitek clubbed two homers in four at-bats, marking the 10th multihomer game of his career, and his offense has been solid since.

His seventh homer came in his 70th at-bat of the season. He did not reach seven homers last season until his 126th plate appearance.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some people believe in me and help me make some adjustments, and that’s about it,’’ said Varitek.

Last season, he had a career-low .209 average with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs. He also struck out 90 times, and when the organization acquired Martinez in a midseason trade with Cleveland, that all but sealed Varitek’s fate as a starter.

But not as the team’s undisputed leader in the clubhouse. That never seemed to change.

“I’ve played long periods, when Vic hurt his toe, and I’ve played short periods. And then I haven’t played in a long time, so there’s different roles,’’ said Varitek, who entered last night’s game with a 16-6 record in his 22 games as a starter.

“You just have to fulfill your role when you’re called upon.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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