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Red Sox Notebook

Short circuit for battery?

Varitek’s absence hard to measure

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / September 19, 2010

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Did Jason Varitek’s absence behind the plate lead to a subpar season by the Red Sox pitching staff?

It’s a loaded question, because a yes answer puts Victor Martinez in a poor light. It’s also a tough thing to quantify. But the consensus among some who watched the Sox regularly is that Varitek’s absence made a difference.

“That’s what he’s known for,’’ said a veteran scout. “Sometimes it doesn’t show up in the numbers, but the confidence he gives a pitcher, the confidence he gives the defense, that’s something he can still give a team.

“Like I said, can’t measure it and sometimes I’ve heard people say his preparation can be ‘overrated.’ Well, maybe it is, but when he’s gone, you see a difference, and that’s no assault of Victor Martinez or anyone else who caught. Varitek is just unique that way.’’

The Sox started Jarrod Saltalamacchia last night against Toronto because they are trying to get a read on whether he can be their long-term answer behind the plate. Saltalamacchia’s increased playing time will only mean a decrease of time for Varitek.

The Sox know what Varitek can do, and they know that he’s perfectly accepting of the backup/mentoring role, one he would love to continue next season.

Will it happen? There are players in the clubhouse who truly believe Varitek is still the guy who makes the biggest impact on the pitching staff.

As Jorge Posada, the Yankees’ graybeard catcher, said back in spring training, “Jason makes a huge difference to a pitching staff, and that’s why he’ll play a lot more than people think.’’

That was curtailed when Varitek broke his right foot June 30. But now that he’s healthy, there is no place to play.

Asked about playing time, Varitek just smiled and didn’t answer. He understands what the team needs to do the remainder of the way.

Varitek has let it be known that he wants to play next year and beyond.

He has found a new zest for what he does, and when asked if he were in the best shape of his career, he didn’t shy away from answering yes.

If you watch Varitek’s routine before and after games, you can see why. The workload is constant, even when he’s not playing.

He feels he has greatly improved his mechanics behind the plate, particularly his release, to where he is consistently under 2.0 getting the ball to second base with accuracy.

Whether it’s wisdom or a renewed look at his career, Varitek is of the belief that he will play baseball next season. He hopes it’s with the Red Sox. And teammates, particularly the pitchers, hope so, too.

What might have been
As Jose Bautista slammed his 49th homer of the season off Josh Beckett in the first inning of last night’s 4-3 Blue Jays victory, you couldn’t help but wonder how he would have looked in a Red Sox uniform and what he might have accomplished at Fenway. The Sox placed a waiver claim on Bautista last year and nearly had a deal worked out for him with the Blue Jays . . . Major league scouts are making their final evaluations of players, except those advancing to playoffs. The Sox have been trying to build value in some of their minor league players. Their biggest hope is to increase Lars Anderson’s value. Some are buying it and some are not, but even the slightest elevation in value — a guy you can throw into a deal as a second or third piece — is worth playing time. That goes not only for Anderson — who may get steamrolled by Double A phenom first baseman Anthony Rizzo — but also a guy like Josh Reddick, who may not fit here but could be a strong fourth outfielder somewhere else.

Salute from skipper
Sox manager Terry Francona sent Joe Torre a note after learning that Torre was stepping down as Dodgers manager after the season. “My only thought, I actually sent him a note last night, was that whatever he’s doing, I hope he’s doing on his own terms,’’ Francona said. “I think he deserves that. He’s been doing it for a long time, and there’s a lot of respect from a lot of people about how he conducts himself. So I hope he’s happy with the decision he made. That’s what I care about.’’ Francona, who is 19 years younger than Torre, said he couldn’t imagine himself in the dugout at age 70 . . . Reliever Felix Doubront will be re-examined tomorrow but it’s likely he will be shut down for the season with an upper pectoral injury . . . Eight of Bautista’s 49 homers have come against the Red Sox . . . Hideki Okajima is mounting a mini-revival. He pitched two scoreless innings and has a scoreless string of 8 1/3 innings . . . Bill Hall snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a sixth-inning single . . . Adrian Beltre twisted his left wrist diving for a grounder in the fourth inning. “Everything seems to be intact,’’ said Francona. “He’s a tough kid. We’ll check him out today. There’s a chance he’ll be sore.’’

Awards night
The Sox handed out their minor league awards last night, and among them were.

Pitcher of the year: Doubront (Double A Portland/Triple A Pawtucket): Combined to go 8-3 with a 2.81 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 17 games.

Offensive co-player of the year: First baseman Rizzo (Single A Salem/Double A Portland): Hit .260 with 25 homers and 100 RBIs.

Offensive co-player of the year: Catcher Ryan Lavarnway (Single A Salem/Double A Portland): Batted .288 with 22 home runs, and 102 RBIs.

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