Red Sox

Swihart returns to Red Sox with a new job description

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Swihart returns to Red Sox with a new job description

BOSTON -- Blake Swihart is back with the Red Sox. This time, however, it's primarily as an outfielder and not a catcher.

Swihart, who began the year as part of the club's catching tandem with Ryan Hanigan, was optioned to Pawtucket when Christian Vazquez was activated from his rehab stint. Once there, the Sox had him playing the outfield to help expand his versatility and create ways he could help the major league club this season.

It didn't take long to get him into the lineup, either -- Swihart was in left field, batting ninth, Friday night against Cleveland. He'll play left field regularly against right-handed pitchers, with Chris Young starting against lefties.

"He adapted, by all accounts, pretty rapidly [to left],'' said John Farrell. "I think that speaks to his work ethic and openess to add the outfield to his defensive alignment. The only thing he hasn't experienced is working against [the left-field] wall here. That's going to be a first in-game for him.

"But we feel like the athlete that it is, he's got a short stint of left field in his days as an amateur player. But he adapted pretty well with the footwork and precise routes while at Pawtucket.''

"I've gotten a lot of work out there,'' said Swihart, "and everything is going pretty well. I played it a lot when I was young, so (I've been trying) to get those instincts to take over again -- getting jumps on balls, and I find myself backing up bases without even thinking about it, so the instincts are taking over.''

Swihart spent about an hour Friday afternoon taking balls off the left-field wall, trying to get acclimated.

"I've been picking all the outfielders' brains,'' Swihart said. "Anything they can give me to work with, I'll take it.''

Farrell said the Sox still envision Swihart catching in the future, but while here, Vazquez and Hanigan will continue to handle the vast majority of work behind the plate.

"How we can keep his [catching] sharp while he's here is going to be a challenge,'' conceded Farrell. "But some of the early work (will be focused on catching) because we don't want that to be eliminated.''

How Martinez rose from ashes of Astros release to Red Sox stardom

How Martinez rose from ashes of Astros release to Red Sox stardom

Good things come to those who wait. And while it’s hard to knock the results of the Houston Astros’ “process,” a new piece from Sports Illustrated details how J.D. Martinez has them wishing they waited a little longer.

Coming off an age-25 season that saw him hit just .250 with a .650 OPS, Martinez was desperate to change in 2013. After all, with limited speed and a below-average glove, Martinez’s bat was his livelihood.

“J.D., you’re not even a career .700 OPS hitter,” said then-Astros hitting coach John Mallee. “You don’t steal bags. You’re not a Gold Glover. You have to hit… You can make enough money to live off of, at least until you become too expensive to keep around. But that’s it. Unless you change something.”

After studying perennial All-Stars like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun, Martinez realized his entire swing needed an overhaul, and turned to Astros teammate Jason Castro for advice. Martinez’s journey with Castro is a long one, taking him from Houston to California to Venezuela and, finally, to Kissimmee, Florida, home of the Astros’ Spring Training complex.  

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With a new swing in his toolbox, a revamped enthusiasm and energy, and a desperation to prove himself, all Martinez needed was an opportunity. But the Astros didn't oblige. Houston -- coming off a 111-loss season -- released Martinez after just 18 exhibition at-bats, not even seeking anything in return. Martinez couldn't make the worst team in the league.

Instead of sulking, however, Martinez was motivated -- driven to make the Astros' lack of confidence in his adjustments haunt them.

"You guys are going to see me," Martinez told Houston teammates José Altuve and Dallas Keuchel after being released. "Don't worry about it. I'll be good. I promise you."

Martinez caught on with the Detroit Tigers and the rest, as they say, is history. He used his new swing to slug his way to the top of a myriad of offensive categories and now, four years after being released, there is perhaps no more feared slugger in baseball than Martinez, who has two more home runs (37) than his team has losses (35).

Martinez’s road to the top has been long, but serves as a reminder that in a sport increasingly driven by data, the game is played by humans, and not even the most thorough algorithms can compute a human’s drive to succeed.

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