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Minor League notebook

No snags for catcher so far

Lavarnway hasn’t slowed since move

Kevin Millwood is 5-0 with Pawtucket, and the team is 10-0 in his starts. Kevin Millwood is 5-0 with Pawtucket, and the team is 10-0 in his starts. (File/Mark Duncan/AP/2005)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / July 22, 2011

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. - When Ryan Lavarnway was promoted to Triple A Pawtucket June 13, his objective was to become a more well-rounded player, which first meant becoming a better catcher.

“I’ve been really happy with the way I’ve been catching the ball,’’ Lavarnway said this week. “I’ve had a lot of good feedback from Arnie [Beyeler, the PawSox manager] and the pitching staff. I’ve been working with Rich [Sauveur, the pitching coach] on game call, and that’s been coming along pretty good.’’

As for his hitting? Well, the 23-year-old from Woodland Hills, Calif., could not be more thrilled. He was hitting over .500 in the 10 games leading up to Wednesday afternoon’s 2-1 victory over Lehigh Valley at McCoy Stadium.

“I feel good swinging the bat,’’ said Lavarnway, who went deep in last night’s series finale against the IronPigs and is hitting .377 with 12 doubles, 12 home runs, and 33 RBIs. “For me, it’s all been about swinging at the right pitches, and I’ve been swinging at some good pitches lately.’’

Including one in Tuesday night’s 7-2 victory over Lehigh Valley that he hit some 426 feet, hitting the roof of the center-field concession stand.

“Yeah, that felt good,’’ Lavarnway said, recalling the highlight of his 2-for-3 effort that included three RBIs and three runs.

He has a system-high 26 homers this season, after he hit 14 and drove in 38 runs in 55 games with Double A Portland.

Asked if Lavarnway made any adjustments to Triple A pitching, Beyeler joked, “It doesn’t look like it. From the way he’s hit the ball, it looks like he’s playing tee ball out there. You laugh about it, but it’s been pretty impressive.’’

Before going 0 for 4 with a strikeout Wednesday, Lavarnway had hit safely in nine of 10 games (20 for 38) with five doubles, six homers, 11 runs, and 13 RBIs. It was good for an off-the-charts OPS of 1.713 (.581 on-base and 1.132 slugging percentage).

“He got off to a real good start last year in Double A when he came up [from High-A Salem],’’ said Beyeler, who managed Lavarnway last season in Portland. “But he ran into some pitching that he had to make an adjustment, and came back strong and finished strong.’’

Lavarnway earned Co-Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year honors last year, a season in which he hit .288 with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs. He looks like a candidate for the honor this season with more than 20 homers for the third straight year.

Ranked by Baseball America as Boston’s No. 1 catching prospect at the beginning of the season, the publication recently named Lavarnway to its minor league All-Surprise Team.

“Last year, I got in that little rut [at Portland] and was chasing curveballs in the dirt with two strikes and taking fastballs. That’s when I really get myself into trouble,’’ he said. “The biggest thing for me is not to think too much and get passive, but to stay aggressive and when I stay aggressive that’s when I recognize pitches better. And that’s how I ultimately hit them better.’’

With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, could Lavarnway be a possible chip in a deal?

“It’s not my decision to decide where it leads to,’’ he said. “People who make those decisions, it’s their job for a reason, because they’re good at it. My job is to play baseball, and that’s what I’m doing and I’m enjoying it.’’

So, too, are the PawSox.

“With his approach and how he goes about it, he’s going to be a good hitter,’’ Beyeler said. “He’s going to be a dangerous out at the plate. He’s got a good idea of the strike zone and he doesn’t chase a lot. He’s always going to make the good adjustment.’’

Showing his stuff Kevin Millwood continues to impress for the PawSox. Since opting out of his minor league deal with the Yankees and signing a similar deal with the Red Sox May 19, Pawtucket is 10-0 in his starts. On Wednesday, Millwood, 36, went seven innings and allowed one run on seven hits and one walk while ringing up five strikeouts, locating his fastball and mixing it with a changeup and slider.

Although he felt his curveball left much to be desired, “I feel like I’m where I need to be, throwing the ball well,’’ Millwood said. “I feel everything’s coming along the way I’ve wanted it to, and now it’s just kind of wait and see what’s in the plan for those guys.’’

While Jeremy Kehrt picked up his first win of the season when Che-Hsuan Lin hit a walkoff single with two outs in the ninth, Millwood kept his Pawtucket record at 5-0 and lowered his ERA to 3.79.

“He’s been strong pretty much all season for us,’’ Beyeler said. “Had just one bad outing, but he’s done a great job. He knows how to pitch and definitely a guy who knows how to get guys out, very professional guy.’’

In his 19th professional season and first with the Red Sox organization, Millwood expressed hope of helping the big club this season.

“This is where I’d want to play, but we’ll see what happens,’’ he said. “I feel like I’ve put myself in a position where I can either go help a big league club at some point or go home.’’

All-around effort Lin had quite an eventful afternoon on Wednesday. He made the first out in the first inning when he was gunned down at the plate. He tied the game, 1-1, in the third when he hit a sacrifice fly to left that scored Luis Exposito. In the top of the ninth, Lin caught Kevin Frandsen’s fly to center. Lin threw to third in an attempt to nail Brian Bocock, who successfully tagged from second, but third baseman Hector Luna relayed the throw to second to retire Rich Thompson for the final out. “Those are the things we talk about, just the little stuff,’’ Beyeler said of Lin. “We all know he’s got one of the better arms in the league, if not one of the better arms in baseball. But it doesn’t play when the ball’s 50 feet high. We’ve got to hit the relay guys, and keep the ball down, and he made the adjustment that last play and it ended up helping us get out of the inning.’’ Lin broke up the 1-1 tie with a single to right in the bottom of the ninth. Asked which made him happier, making a big defensive play or getting a game-winning hit, Lin replied, “Both.’’ . . . Beyeler got shortstop Jose Iglesias back in time for last night’s game. Iglesias went on the disabled list retroactive to July 4 with a mild concussion. In a corresponding move, outfielder Matt Sheely was placed on the seven-day DL retroactive to July 20 with a foot contusion . . . Despite being designated for assignment in May, lefthander Hideki Okajima has pitched well in Pawtucket with a 5-1 record and 2.27 ERA in 22 appearances . . . Righthander Chris Martin, a 25-year-old who spent a year and a half out of baseball before signing with the Red Sox, continues to impress at High-A Salem (Va.), where over his last seven outings he has 18 2/3 scoreless innings. He was 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA at Low-A Greenville (S.C.).

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com

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