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Minor League notebook

Lavarnway swings into action with Pawtucket

Ryan Kalish has hit a snag unrelated to his shoulder issue. Ryan Kalish has hit a snag unrelated to his shoulder issue. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / June 17, 2011

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Every step he has taken in his budding professional career has been a positive one. But when catcher Ryan Lavarnway learned of his promotion Sunday evening from Double A Portland to Triple A Pawtucket, he knew it was a big step.

“I was watching playoff basketball and I got a phone call from my manager, Kevin Boles,’’ said Lavarnway. “And he said, ‘How would you like to go to Pawtucket?’ and I said, ‘That would be nice.’ He said, ‘You’re leaving in 11 hours — pack your stuff.’ ’’

With that, Lavarnway was on his way to Pawtucket.

Problem was, his equipment was not. It had been loaded onto a bus following the Sea Dogs’ game that afternoon in Portland and shipped to Akron, Ohio.

So when he arrived Monday in Pawtucket to make his first start for the PawSox, Lavarnway had to borrow equipment. He wore a pair of cleats belonging to fellow catcher Luis Exposito, used the mitt of Jeff Cutler (Hideki Okajima’s interpreter), and donned an extra set of catcher’s gear that was lying around the clubhouse.

“Fortunately, I had some extra bats sitting around in the locker room in Portland,’’ Lavarnway said.

The 23-year-old from Woodland Hills, Calif., who entered this season rated by Baseball America as the Red Sox top catching prospect, was promoted when catcher Mike McKenry was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lavarnway made an immediate impression in his Triple A debut. Against the Charlotte Knights, he caught righthanded starter Kyle Weiland, with whom he played last year in Portland, and went 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles. He scored the PawSox’ only run in a 4-1 setback on Brent Dlugach’s single to right in the seventh inning.

Asked about Lavarnway’s debut, Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler jokingly tried to downplay his contributions.

“He was all right,’’ Beyeler said. “Hit one to the wall, hit a double down the left-field line, threw a runner out at second, blocked eight balls. Not a bad night.’’

Lavarnway, who didn’t start catching until his sophomore year at Yale, where he was the Ivy League’s career leader with 33 home runs and hit an NCAA-best .467 as a sophomore, was pleased he could step in and make his presence felt, offensively and defensively.

“It was definitely nice to get the first hit out of the way,’’ he said. “Sometimes that’s the toughest one. I’m definitely trying to change my reputation from a bat with no glove to a glove and a bat, both being equally helpful to the team.

“I’ve worked tirelessly on my defense, and I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m going to continue to refine my skills and hopefully become a big league catcher.’’

Beyeler, who managed last season in Portland, agreed that Lavarnway has worked hard to shed his reputation of “good bat/suspect glove.’’

“A lot of stuff he does, it doesn’t look real pretty, but it plays,’’ Beyeler said. “He just plays. He throws guys out. He blocks balls. He works his butt off. He’s always where he’s supposed to be all the time. He’s a great kid. He’s a hard worker.

“It’s unbelievable how much he’s improved over the last few years. It’s going to be good for Expo to have him up here, the competition between the two of them.’’

Lavarnway’s latest promotion is part of a steady progression that began in 2009 at Single A Greenville, where he led Sox farmhands with 21 homers and a .540 slugging percentage. Last season, he spent time in advanced Single A Salem (Va.) and Portland, where he combined to establish career highs with a .288 average, 22 home runs, and 102 RBIs.

“In the big picture, this isn’t where I want to be at the end of the road,’’ he said, “but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

“It’s another step in my development to become the major league catcher that I want to be. I just got to continue to work hard and put my nose to the grindstone even more and earn the trust of this pitching staff and eventually hope to get an opportunity to go to the big leagues and catch that pitching staff.’’

Pain in the neck Outfielder Ryan Kalish, who has not played for Pawtucket since injuring his left shoulder April 21 while making a diving catch vs. Syracuse, is back in Pawtucket after undergoing rehab at extended spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., but his return to the lineup has been stymied by what Beyeler called “a neck issue that keeps slowing him down.’’ Kalish’s shoulder injury, which did not require surgery, responded well to rehab. “The shoulder’s doing really well,’’ Beyeler said. “We’re trying to get him healthy and get him some at-bats somewhere and see where he is. He hasn’t been through live batting practice yet. He’s still working tee and toss and trying to get through a day where that neck isn’t bothering him.’’ . . . Just as he hoped, infielder Yamaico Navarro was reinstated from the disabled list yesterday and added to the PawSox roster for the start of a four-game series against Lehigh Valley. Navarro had been on the DL since May 6 with a right oblique strain suffered while beating out a bunt single. “I did some work at Lowell, taking BP,’’ Navarro said. “I felt good. Everything felt good, my swing, everything. I’m ready to go.’’

Still the 1 Despite being promoted from Salem to Portland, Reynaldo Rodriguez remains the leader in a few batting categories in the Carolina League. He leads in doubles (24) and slugging percentage (.579) while sharing the top spot for average (.317) and on-base percentage (.397) . . . Led by first-year manager Carlos Febles, the Lowell Spinners will open their season tonight at LeLacheur Park, hosting the Connecticut Tigers.

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

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