Red Sox

Blake Swihart DFA challenged Christian Vazquez to be better, and it’s showing

Blake Swihart DFA challenged Christian Vazquez to be better, and it’s showing

BOSTON — Christian Vazquez has been one of the more pleasant surprises for the Red Sox so far this season.

Not known for his offensive prowess, Vazquez finds himself hitting .311 with five home runs and a .881 OPS. The five homers already match his career-high set in 2017.

In Friday night’s series opener vs. the Astros, he continued his success at the plate going 3-for-4 with two doubles and driving in Boston’s lone run.

Vazquez has been the Red Sox’ primary backstop over the last three seasons, but this year still is a bit different for the 28-year-old. He’s isn’t looking over his shoulder and seeing Blake Swihart, once a top Sox prospect, competing for a regular role. Sure, there’s still Sandy Leon, but it isn’t a debate who “the guy” is or should be at catcher for Boston.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Saturday he believes designating Swihart for assignment last month sent Vazquez a message.

“I do feel that [DFA’ing Swihart] — and that wasn’t the reason, it was just a baseball move — it challenged [Vazquez],” Cora said. “You know, like ‘hey, we believe you can hit. We believe you can be an all-around catcher.’”

Vazquez’s improvement at the plate hasn’t been all about Swihart’s departure, of course. He had his moments during Boston’s World Series run — particularly in the Division Series against the Yankees — and carried that experience over into the new campaign.

“Christian actually in the offseason decided to improve his swing,” said Cora. “He was very successful in the playoffs. I don’t know about the numbers, but the quality of the at-bats were great. If you go back to the people he faced starting with [Luis] Severino and then the home run against [Zack] Britton and the at-bat against [Justin Verlander] … he made a conscious effort to keep getting better. It wasn’t a great offensive season for him, obviously he got hurt, but he did his homework.

“It’s been great to see him this way. He’s not the same guy two years ago, three years ago that he was just getting lucky getting hits. Now, you can see it. He’s driving the ball. He’s actually controlling the zone. Probably more swings and misses, but we’ll take this.”

As great as things of gone for Vazquez in the young season, there’s a long way to go. 118 games, to be exact. 

Cora likes what he’s seeing, but now it’s a matter of consistency. The message to Vazquez has gone from “we believe you can hit” to “keep hitting.”

“There’s a lot of stuff going on with him, which is great,” Cora said. “But at the same time, he knows that we’re going to keep pushing him. He needs to keep getting better.”

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Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

As the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLS prepare to resume play in the near future, Major League Baseball still can't get out of its own way.

MLB reportedly rejected the Players Association's proposal Wednesday for a 114-game season in 2020 and apparently doesn't plan to make a counter-offer.

The league and the players have refused to budge on the issues dividing them: Players don't want to take an additional pay cut after agreeing to prorated salaries in March, while the owners are wary of extending the season too long due to the coronavirus pandemic and want players to agree to further reduced salaries to mitigate lost revenue.

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That stalemate has cost MLB valuable time, however, as the league doesn't appear close to beginning its 2020 regular season as the calendar turns to June.

So, who's to blame here? Lou Merloni believes it's everyone involved.

The former Boston Red Sox infielder ripped into both the league and the union Wednesday night during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston.

"Both sides suck, OK? That's the bottom line," Merloni said. "The Players Association comes back and says, 'Not 82 (games), we want 114' when they know that's the non-starter. The owners don't want to sit there and play until November. They're worried about the pandemic; they've got to get the playoffs in. And then the owners come back and say we're not even going to counter?

"Jesus, we're like a month into this thing. Can you string this thing out (any longer)? How about go in one room together and try to figure this out in a day or two?"

Compounding MLB's issue is that the NBA is expected to announce a return-to-play plan Thursday that would resume the 2019-20 season in late July. The MLS and NHL also have made headwinds toward resuming their seasons this summer -- which means baseball is wasting a much-needed opportunity to showcase itself as the only active pro sports league.

"I mean, you're running out of time and you're only screwing yourself. Even if baseball does come back, people have already said, 'I've had enough of you.' It's been like a month, a year, and you guys talk and bitch about this thing publicly. I don't give a crap anymore. I've got hockey, basketball, football is around the corner, hell, soccer is around the corner. I'm good.

"They don't even realize it! It's like they're in this bubble and they don't even realize what's going on around them right now. Figure this thing out: 70 games, 65, prorated (salaries), start playing some baseball, because your ass better be first coming back. If not, people are going to be done."

There's reportedly some optimism that the players and the union will resolve their differences and put a return plan in place. But with nearly one-third of the season already lost, the clock is ticking.

Check out Merloni's full comments in the video player above.

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

There's only one choice for best designated hitter in Red Sox history, but just in case there's any doubt, we'll quote broadcaster Dave O'Brien with the signature call from his WEEI days: "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!"

No sense in even pretending there's any suspense on this one.

What's fascinating about ranking the Red Sox DHs, however, is just how few of them have actually held down the position for any length of time over the years.

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Only nine players have made at least 200 appearances there with the Red Sox since the DH was introduced in 1973, and four of them — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Manny Ramirez — have already appeared elsewhere in our outfield rankings.

That leaves five men to fill out the list, and about the only difficult omission is slugger Jose Canseco, who made 184 appearances between 1995 and 1996.

Click here for the Top 5 DHs in Red Sox history.