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Easy does it for Saltalamacchia

Relaxed approach produces at plate

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who entered the game batting .138, comes up with his second key hit, a two-run single in the sixth. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who entered the game batting .138, comes up with his second key hit, a two-run single in the sixth. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 18, 2011

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Dave Magadan knew Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a lot going on.

So much so, the Red Sox hitting coach could sense it was affecting Saltalamacchia’s performance at the plate. The catcher, who led the team with a .364 average in spring training, was hitting just .138 after his first 10 games of the season.

Saltalamacchia was 4 for 29 with five total bases, one double, two RBIs, two walks, and 13 strikeouts.

“He’s handling a great pitching staff, he’s got a new baby in the house, and he’s trying to establish himself here as the everyday guy,’’ said Magadan. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world for anyone to handle.’’

So when he addressed Saltalamacchia’s hitting woes Saturday, a day off for the catcher, Magadan sought to simplify matters with a simple question. “I asked him, ‘What’s been the biggest difference between now and spring training?’ ’’ Magadan said. “And he said, ‘It was how relaxed I was in spring training.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the answer.’ ’’

When he dug his cleats into the batter’s box yesterday, Saltalamacchia did so with the intent to relax, breathe after every pitch, and let the ball travel to him instead of reaching for it with the barrel of his bat.

Saltalamacchia did precisely that and went 2 for 4 with three RBIs in an 8-1 victory over the Blue Jays,

“I felt good, felt comfortable,’’ said Saltalamacchia. “Me and Mags kind of talked and figured some stuff out and I felt pretty comfortable today.’’

Saltalamacchia delivered a pair of run-scoring hits, the first a single to right that tied the game, 1-1, and was part of a four-run second inning that was highlighted by Jacoby Ellsbury’s three-run homer.

Then, with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, Saltalamacchia singled sharply to right, driving in a pair of runs that made it 6-1.

“He was relaxed at the plate and he allowed the ball to travel to him, and when he’s doing that he’s got as much pop in his bat as anybody on the team,’’ Magadan said.

“But when he tries to go out there and get the ball, and he’s way out in front of the pitches that are being thrown, he doesn’t give himself much of a chance.

“Just relax and understand that you’re not living and dying with every pitch.’’

That, however, was easier said than done for Saltalamacchia, especially after the Sox’ 0-6 start.

“The more anybody relaxes, the better they’re going to be,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona.

When the first two turns through the starting rotation produced disastrous results, the tendency was to point the finger at the catcher.

“The important thing for him today was his game behind the plate,’’ said reliever Bobby Jenks. “A game like that, especially with the way things had been going, is only going to give him confidence backed up to where he left spring training. So today was very important.’’

Saltalamacchia seemed to exude that confidence when Jenks was summoned to replace Felix Doubront with two outs in the eighth.

Mindful of the way things had gone in the last outing for Jenks, who allowed a career-high four runs in one-third of an inning and was tagged with the loss Friday in a 7-6 setback to the Blue Jays, Saltalamacchia made it clear what he wanted from Jenks.

“When he came out to the mound, he was like, ‘Let’s go after this guy,’ ’’ said Jenks, who responded by striking out J.P. Arencibia with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball.

“On the bench afterward he was like, ‘See? The other day we were [messing] around with sinkers. Just go after ’em.’

“So, I mean, if we see more of that, it’s going to be a fantastic year for our staff.’’

If Saltalamacchia produces at the plate as well, like he did yesterday, it will be a bonus. The solution to his hitting woes was a simple fix.

“It’s not mechanical, it’s not that you’re doing this or you’re doing that,’’ Magadan said. “It’s slowing yourself down, allowing the ball to come to you, and getting a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it. It’s not rocket science.

“Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy if you don’t get out of your own way.’’

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

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