Red Sox

Vazquez's anticipated return moves Sox closer to decision at catcher

Vazquez's anticipated return moves Sox closer to decision at catcher

BOSTON -- It seems quite certain that, as anticipated, the Red Sox will promote Christian Vazquez from Pawtucket when they resume play Friday. Vazquez will take the roster spot created when the Sox optioned outfielder Rusney Castillo.

Vazquez, according to reports, did not accompany the Pawtucket Red Sox when they left for a road trip Thursday, a clear signal that he's Boston- bound.

Now that Vazquez is set to rejoin the Red Sox, three questions remain: How much will he play? What sort of impact can he have? And what to the Red Sox do with their catching surplus.

Vazquez is just over a year removed from Tommy John surgery and the Sox have been monitoring his workload. The schedule at Pawtucket, while on a rehab assignment, had him playing two games, then taking one off.

That's a schedule that could easily be duplicated in the big leagues, especially with two other available options -- Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart -- available to fill in.

Until the Red Sox believe that they can take the training wheels off, Vazquez could easily play four or five times per week without pushing him past acceptable limits.

There's little doubt that most Red Sox starters prefer throwing to Vazquez. He's the best receiver of the group, and at least pre-surgery, his arm was among the strongest in baseball.

Moreover, Vazquez is expert at framing pitches to help steal the occasional called strike, and he has a forceful personality behind the plate. Members of the organization still marvel when recalling Vazquez, in one of his first starts, going out to the mound, without fear, to confront irrascible John Lackey two seasons ago in Houston.

If Vazquez, then a rookie, could do be confident enough to challenge a prickly veteran like Lackey, then surely he can handle just about anything.

And the Red Sox could use some help. Even in the wake of Joe Kelly's eventful two-runs in five innings outing in Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Baltimore, the Red Sox rotation still sports an inflated ERA of 6.86, ranking them last in the American League.

Can a catcher make a significant different on the performance of a pitching staff? Absolutely. And don't think that the Sox didn't miss Vazquez mightily in 2015, as he recovered from surgery, and the team mixed-and-matched the trio of Swihart, Hanigan and journeyman Sandy Leon.

Vazquez's feel for a game, ability to read swings and work with a pitcher's strengths are all well-above average skills. It goes without saying that his return should help negate opponents' running games, even if they may be eager to test his surgically-repaired elbow in the early going.

But his return could cause some issues for the team. The Sox can carry three catchers for a while, but not for an extended period.

Swihart is probably the odd-man out here. Hanigan is the perfect backup, and he's paired well with Kelly, a combination that will probably continue. At this stage of his development, Swihart needs to continue to play to refine his defensive game, and playing once a week in Boston won't accomplish much.

As long as the Sox devote three roster spots to catchers, manager John Farrell will be hamstrung. Beginning Friday, his four extra position players will be catchers, leaving just two other playrs - infielder Josh Rutledge and outfielder Chris Young.

Fortunately for Farell, Young can play all three outfield spots, though he's average at best now in center. Rutledge, meanwhile, can conceivably move around the entire infield.

Still, that limits the in-game moves that Farrell can make. And should he continue to hit Young for Brock Holt when a lefty reliever comes into the game, he'll be left with just one more move the rest of the way.

Eventually, the Red Sox are going to be forced into making a tough decision about their catching situation in the future. If, as it seems, they want Vazquez to be their No. 1 catcher for years to come, it makes sense to deal Swihart.

Hanigan has an option on his contract for 2017 and could return in 2017 as a dependable backup.

It makes little sense to keep Swihart to play, say, 50 games a season. And the notion that the Sox should move him to another position -- left field? third base? first base? -- misses a critical point: Swihart is valuable because of the offense he brings behind the plate. If he's moved elsewhere and contributes at the same level offensively, he becomes just another player.

Those are decisions the Sox can put off for the time being, as Vazquez is hanlded carefully in the next few weeks, maybe months. But eventually, a day of reckoning is coming and the Red Sox will have to address the surplus.

Strong Grapefruit League debut for Price

Strong Grapefruit League debut for Price

David Price's Grapefruit League debut was nearly perfect.

The Red Sox left-hander pitched four scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk and striking out five in a 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Fort Myers, Fla.

Price threw 55 pitches, 34 for strikes. He cruised through the first on nine pitches. He allowed the single and walk in the second.  

"It feels good. This is March 15 and I've never been able to have a four-pitch mix on March 15," Price told reporters after his start. "I've never been this far along in spring training even though I've only thrown in one game. I'm excited about that."

The Red Sox open March 29 at Tampa Bay, with Chris Sale likely to start. Price will likely pitch the second game of the season, March 30 at Tropicana Field.