Red Sox

Forget about 'we'll be fine' - change at catcher suggests Red Sox inching towards panic room

Forget about 'we'll be fine' - change at catcher suggests Red Sox inching towards panic room

NEW YORK - If you're wondering how the last-place Red Sox really feel about their woeful 6-11 start, you got your answer around 1 p.m.

That's when news broke (courtesy of WEEI's Evan Drellich) that the team had finally ended Blake Swihart's misery and designated the perpetually available catcher/left fielder/scapegoat for assignment, replacing him with stout backup Sandy Leon.

And just like that, the team's "we'll be fine" rhetoric was revealed as the wishful thinking we could all see it to be, especially after the lifeless 8-1 loss to the Orioles on Monday, which completed a missed opportunity of a 3-3 homestand against the bottom-dwelling O's and Blue Jays.

After Monday's matinee, president of baseball operations Dombrowski huddled with manager Alex Cora and the coaching staff for 90 minutes, taking advantage of a window that opened when rain delayed the team's departure for the airport. They emerged from the meeting recognizing that changes needed to be made, and they started at catcher, ditching the defensively deficient Swihart in favor of Leon, an impeccable game-caller who just happens to be an offensive zero.

That's a tradeoff the Red Sox are willing to make, because their pitching staff is a disaster, beginning with the Tuesday starter, ace Chris Sale. He'll throw to Leon in Yankee Stadium in the hopes of rediscovering last year's chemistry, which saw Sale post a 2.04 ERA with Leon, compared to 9.00 without him in 2019.

If the issues plaguing one of baseball's worst rotations were as simple as an exchange of backup catchers, however, the Red Sox would've made the move a week ago. Their problems run so much deeper than who's behind the plate, it's almost a joke that this is their first step. It's like addressing a leaky roof by upgrading to a fancier bucket.

"Really, when you start looking at our club, you say, well what facet of your club is playing really well, and we're really not playing very well anywhere," Dombrowski said. "Our starting pitching hasn't been very good, our defense hasn't been overly good, our hitting hasn't been like it's been capable of being. So, we've just had a tough start really, is what it comes down to."

While there's something unseemly about the optics of ditching Swihart -- Dombrowski insisted no one was blaming him for the bad start -- opening the season with him on the roster never made a ton of sense. Leon is the best defensive catcher in the organization, and Monday's swap felt inevitable from Opening Day. Dombrowski acknowledged that the decision to keep 
Swihart was not unanimously supported, and added that he has unsuccessfully tried to trade Swihart since the start of last spring training.

Clearly, the youngster had no future in Boston, but the Red Sox stubbornly stashed him in baseball purgatory, admitting that he needed consistent playing time to develop, but refusing to give it to him.

And so Leon returns, and if anyone expects him to fix the rotation, they're imbuing him with powers he lacks. It's also worth noting that he was hitting just .120 (3-for-25) in Pawtucket.

"Obviously, I told Sandy, 'Don't feel like you have to come here and be the savior,' " said Cora. "It doesn't work that way. But there's a comfort level, we know what he's done the past few years. Nothing against Blake obviously, you know how we feel about him, too. It's one of those baseball decisions."

It's hard to single out one trouble spot, though clearly, the starting rotation is a primary concern, which is why Leon has returned. That said, six legitimate contributors to last year's title are hitting below .200, including ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. and World Series MVP Steve Pearce. The overall staff ERA of 5.93 ranks 13th in the American League. The defense's 15 errors rank 12th.

"We're healthy and not playing good baseball, every aspect of the game – pitching, offense, defense, baserunning," Cora said. "It's on us to play better. If we do that, we're one of the best teams in the big leagues, if not the best. But at the same time, right now, we're not.

"It's pretty simple: Get better at everything."

That doesn't sound particularly simple to me. If it were, a swap of backup catchers might actually be enough to fix it.

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Red Sox' Alex Verdugo bristles at notion of 'replacing' Mookie Betts

Red Sox' Alex Verdugo bristles at notion of 'replacing' Mookie Betts

Alex Verdugo has some big shoes to fill after trading places with Mookie Betts. Just don't tell that to Alex Verdugo.

The Red Sox right fielder was the only major-league-level player the Los Angeles Dodgers sent to Boston in their offseason trade for Betts and David Price.

Considering he and Betts play the same position, it's natural to wonder how Verdugo feels about taking over for one of the best right fielders in Red Sox history. 

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But after hitting two home runs and robbing a Blue Jays long ball in Boston's 5-3 win over Toronto on Friday, the 24-year-old didn't want to hear his name alongside Betts'.

"I’m not replacing him," Verdugo told reporters, via's Rob Bradford. "Yeah, he played here but this is a game. This is a business. He decided to go elsewhere. I’m not replacing him. That’s what you guys say; that’s what everybody else says.

"I’m going out there and playing right field. I’m playing my game. I don’t think about Mookie."

Verdugo views Betts as a "great player" who's "going to do a lot" for the Dodgers. But the fourth-year outfielder already seems tired of the comparisons to his predecessor. 

"It’s not a comparable thing. I don’t like comparing it," Verdugo said. "I don’t like when people bring it up, but obviously the nature of the trade, it’s going to happen. People are going to say it.

"I’m going to play my game, I’m going to go out there and compete and bring the energy that I bring. That’s how I’ve always been and I don’t care about shoes to fill, anything like that. I’m playing my game."

Verdugo indeed plays with an energy that's rare to find in Major League Baseball, and his stats to date are matching that energy: He's hitting .294 with three home runs, four RBIs and a .297 OPS through 11 games with the Red Sox.

Of course, Betts is enjoying a stronger start for the Dodgers: .307 with three homers, seven RBIs and a .983 OPS. But don't mention those numbers to Verdugo, who's out to define his own legacy rather than to try to soften the blow of Boston trading its franchise cornerstone.

Red Sox' Alex Verdugo robs home run, celebrates with awesome reaction

Red Sox' Alex Verdugo robs home run, celebrates with awesome reaction

Alex Verdugo made best play of his young Boston Red Sox career Friday night, and he was well aware of it.

With the Red Sox leading the Blue Jays by two runs in the ninth inning, Verdugo leaped in front of the right field bullpen at Fenway Park to rob Toronto's Travis Shaw of a home run.

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The play was impressive in its own right, but the 24-year-old outfielder punctuated it with a great reaction.

Verdugo's scream of celebration was audible on the game broadcast (even above the fake crowd noise), a sign of just how fired up he was about the catch.

"I would say I’ve never screamed like that before,” Verdugo said after Boston's 5-3 win, via the Associated Press. “I used to be a pitcher back in the day. I was pretty hyped up."

Verdugo had two other reasons to be hyped up: He also blasted a pair of solo home runs, giving him three on the young season and earning a spot alongside legendary left-handed slugger Mo Vaughn.

The Red Sox aren't expected to make much noise this season, but it appears the former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder will do his best to raise the decibel level.