PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- When the Red Sox signed veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach in the off-season, it seemed to preclude Ryan Lavarnway from starting the season with the big league club.
With two and a half weeks to go before the opener, that's still the case. But if nothing else, Lavarnway has made being optioned to Pawtucket a somewhat tougher call for Red Sox management.
Manager Bobby Valentine noted that Lavarnway has made great strides behind the plate though "not necessarily in game situations. He's definitely graded better in (catching instructor Gary) Tuck's evaluations and in my eye. He's going about it the right way. He's
there until the ninth inning every day, and he's not (just) sitting on the bench. He's actually watching what's going on. He's evaluating and processing it. It's the right thing to do.''
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the No. 1 catcher, with Shoppach the veteran backup with the ability to catch and throw well.
Valentine said the Sox would almost certainly not carry three catchers ("high possibility that I will not go with three"), meaning that Lavarnway would have to beat out Shoppach to win a spot.
That's unlikely to happen, given Shoppach's experience and relatively affordable salary (1.35 million), plus the fact, as a newly-signed free agent, Shoppach would have to give his permission to be dealt before June 15.
Lavarnway would give the Sox an interesting righthanded bat off the bench, but the feeling in the organization is that he could benefit more from catching regularly at Pawtucket -- at least to start the season.
"I don't think I'm there,'' cautioned Valentine. "Don't go writing articles tomorrow (saying) Valentine announces it's Lavarnway time.' Eventually, (Lavarnway getting to the big leagues) is going to happen. I don't know if it's on my watch, but sometime. But if the season's starting tomorrow, it would not happen.''