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With Pierzynski Designated, Red Sox Look to 2015

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Christian Vazquez got his first taste of the majors on Wednesday, starting at catcher and batting ninth in the order. Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

BOSTON – In a sign that the Red Sox have all but publicly acknowledged hopes for salvaging the 2014 season are pointless, catcher A.J. Pierzynski was designated for assignment on Wednesday.

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Christian Vazquez was called up to take Pierzynski’s place on the roster. Vazquez, one of the organization’s most highly regarded prospects, is in the starting lineup tonight, catching for righthander Rubby De La Rosa, batting ninth against White Sox lefthander Chris Sale.

Vazquez is one of five rookies in the lineup, along with Brock Holt, batting leadoff and making his major league debut at shortstop, Xander Bogaerts at third base, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field, and Mookie Betts in right field. Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, and Vazquez make up the sixth through ninth batters in the lineup.

This is the earliest the Sox have started five rookies in a game since July 6, 1952, at Washington, when they started Dick Gernert, Dick Lepcio, George Schmees, Faye Throneberry, and Sammy White, according to Elias.

This kind of a move is almost unprecedented for the defending World Series champions, who carry a payroll of more than $156 million, and the highest ticket prices in baseball.

But the Sox enter Wednesday with a record of 39-51, in last place in the American League East. Their .433 winning percentage is better record in the AL than that of only two other teams – the Astros and Rangers – and better than only five other teams overall, including the Cubs, Diamondbacks, and Rockies.

From Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, this is the first time the Sox have started five rookies since Aug. 16, 1987, when they had Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, and Todd Benziger in the outfield, Sam Horn as the designated hitter, and John Marzano catching. That day Sox played the Rangers, managed by former Sox manager Bobby Valentine. To the best of Ballou’s research, the last time the Sox started five rookies in a game before the All-Star break was April 1952.

The Sox, though, insist the youth movement does not mean they are giving up on the season.

“It’s an opportunity for us to invest in players we feel are going to be here beyond 2014,” manager John Farrell said.

Of which Pierzynski was not one. He joined the Sox as a free agent in December on a one-year, $8.25 million deal, and is still owed the remainder of the contract.

Pierzynski is the third free agent who joined the Sox before this season who has been dispatched, along with outfielder Grady Sizemore and pitcher Chris Capuano. All three were designated for assignment for underperformance. After bringing in so many new faces before the 2013 season – and hitting on all of them on the way to the World Series – this season’s lack of success with free agents is a drastic about-face.

Pierzynski, 37 and a veteran of 17 major league seasons, was brought in to replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who departed in free agency for the Marlins after the Sox showed minimal interest in trying to retain him. Pierzynski was hitting .254/.286/.348 in 72 games as the Sox’ primary catcher.

“The offense wasn’t’ there,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “And I’m not trying to be critical of him. It wasn’t a lot of effort on his part. It just wasn’t there.

“When you sign A.J. Pierzynski, that’s what you’re hoping you’re getting: left-handed offense at a premium position. We thought that that was important to the team. That if we got that, it would complement the team.

“[But,] the lefthanded offense just wasn’t there.”

There had been speculation that Pierzynski was not a good fit in the clubhouse. An important point in a Red Sox clubhouse that imploded in September 2011 and was toxic in 2012 until a blockbuster trade cleaned the clubhouse, setting up last season’s chemistry-driven World Series.

Cherington, though, said the decision was simply performance-based.

“As I explained to A.J., I take responsibility for where we are,” Cherington said. “If the team’s record was different, then we may not have done something like this right now. But we are where are so we need to start looking at things a little bit differently and this is part of that.”

Pierzynski may just be the first domino to fall.

“While there may be other decisions that are forthcoming,” Farrell said, “we felt like the place we where we were going to start with was behind the plate.”

Righthander Jake Peavy has been linked in trade rumors to several teams, including the Cardinals, the Sox’ opponent in the World Series. The Sox acquired him last season at the trade deadline to help them down the stretch.

The Sox have not announced a fire sale, but there are scouts from several teams – more than usual – following the Sox right now. The Sox are usually in the position of acquiring players before the July 31 trading deadline to help them on their way to the postseason.

Not this season.

"We'll see,” Cherington said. “ We're in an unusual and perhaps unique position. It's unusual in the sense that we haven't been in this position -- at least since I've been here -- in a position of even thinking about trading players at the deadline. So that's unusual.

“It's unique because on the one hand, our team is where it is. On the other hand we've got guys on the team who are performing at a very high level who were winning a World Series months ago. That just doesn't happen often. That doesn't happen often in baseball. Sometimes teams are sellers but not necessarily with guys who are coming off success like that.

"We'll just have to see what happens. As I've said before. Whatever we do will be with the [mindset] of trying to get better as quickly as possible and trying to build the next good team as quickly as possible."

It just won’t be this season.