Blake Swihart

Still no reasonable plan for Blake Swihart as Vazquez gets hurt

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Still no reasonable plan for Blake Swihart as Vazquez gets hurt

The merry-go-round for Blake Swihart continues. Opportunity knocks now, but it will probably amount to window dressing once again.

Even when Hanley Ramirez was released and Swihart briefly played more often, his overall position did not change: he had no sustained opportunity, no way to improve without opportunity, and no clear future with the club beyond this season. That will probably happen when Christian Vazquez returns, too.

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He had a real chance, you say? He has 88 plate appearances on the season. That’s not a chance. It’s a pittance. If you choose to hold a .175 average against a player in his circumstance, so be it.

There were two gains to be found for the Sox by carrying Swihart to start this season: Retaining cost-controlled talent in the organization, and protection from injury to one of Sandy Leon and Vazquez. The latter came to pass on Saturday night in a 15-4 win over the Royals, with Vazquez heading to the disabled list because of a fractured pinky in his throwing hand.

Now, Swihart, at the age of 26, has a chance to be a backup for some unknown period of time. That’s a good thing for him. A dim light at the end of the tunnel has brightened a bit.

But this result still doesn’t justify the process.

There was never any reasonable plan with Swihart heading into this season. There still isn’t one. The Sox didn’t get any trade offers they liked when Swihart had a hot spring, so they decided they couldn’t trade a player they had virtually no plan to use outside of a contingency.

That’s not how winning rosters should be built, nor is it how young players are developed. Yet, here we are.

Having a young player occupy a roster spot for potentially an entire season as someone to play only when others are injured -- or a guy like Hanley Ramirez gets cut -- lacks foresight. Major-league depth pieces are not stashed away on major-league rosters. They’re kept in the minor leagues to be recalled when needed.

Swihart’s agent went so far as to ask the Red Sox for a trade. How could Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski trade away a player whose value his own roster management has diminished?

“Well, it's a situation that really hasn't changed a great deal in that respect, he's played a little bit, in a tough spot, really hasn't had a chance to play on a regular basis,” Dombrowski said last weekend in New York. “It's not anybody's fault, it's just circumstances. He does protect us in a lot of different roles."

Those circumstances are composition of the roster, which is not a force of nature that cannot be predicted.

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“Half the season's gone by and he really hasn't settled in, it's been limited playing time," Dombrowski said. "If we get through this season, I'm sure we'll encourage him to play winter ball and go catch every single day, because we still think he can be an everyday catcher. But it's just a different spot for us right now with two other guys ahead of him. They’ve played well, they handle the pitching staff well, so it really hasn't left a lot of playing time for him.”

What’s going to change after winter ball? What’s going to change when Vazquez returns from injury? Is Leon going to retire and take up woodwork?

The Sox can claim that Swihart’s getting a shot, and we’ll see both how substantial it is and how long Vazquez is out.

What the Sox still cannot claim is that they’ve handled Swihart well.

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Blake Swihart's struggles magnify decision to DFA Hanley Ramirez

Blake Swihart's struggles magnify decision to DFA Hanley Ramirez

Alex Cora and the Red Sox showed a lot of faith in Blake Swihart when they decided to designate Hanley Ramirez for assignment rather than part ways with the 26-year-old catcher.

The surprising move came not long after Swihart's agent asked the Sox to trade his client as he was getting little to no playing time. Cora opted to go in a different direction, and here we are today.

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Swihart is 9-for-55 on the season (.164 batting average) and has gone 6-for-34 (.176) since the Sox chose him over Ramirez on May 25. He has done next-to-nothing with his opportunity to carve out a role in a Boston lineup that so desperately needs more production from the bottom of the order.

This isn't to say Ramirez was setting the world on fire before his release. But considering how streaky of a hitter he is, you have to believe he'd at least be a more reliable option than Swihart at this point. Ramirez slashed .341/.412/.494 in April. Unlike Swihart, he has at least shown the ability to give you something at the plate.

Of course, Ramirez's ice-cold May isn't the main reason he's no longer with the team. There's the $22 million vesting option that would've triggered had Ramirez made 497 plate appearances this season. (Dave Dombrowski says the vesting option wasn't a factor, but if you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you.) Cora also has preached "versatility," an advantage Swihart most definitely has over Ramirez.

But versatility doesn't put runs on the board, as our own Evan Drellich wrote a week ago when Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia went down with injuries. The Sox offense without Betts was exposed in this past series vs the White Sox, one of the worst teams in the majors. Boston scored only seven runs in the three-game set and was 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position (including Swihart's inning-ending popout to the shortstop with the bases loaded on Sunday).  J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi can only do so much.

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Swihart absolutely isn't the only Red Sox hitter that deserves to be picked on. Jackie Bradley Jr.'s woes continue. Rafael Devers is hitting .230 with a meager .682 OPS. Mitch Moreland recently has come back to Earth. the list goes on.

But what separates Swihart from the rest is he never had much of a role on this team in the first place.

It's still way too early to give up on Swihart. But the longer his struggles last, the more we'll be forced to question Cora's bold decision to stick with a third catcher (that wasn't seeing the field to begin with) over a proven veteran hitter and run producer.

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Will Beeks' bleak debut make Sox reluctant to turn to him again?

Will Beeks' bleak debut make Sox reluctant to turn to him again?

BOSTON — First impressions are probably more vital to starting pitchers than anyone else.

A reliever is usually asked to pitch in a low-leverage situation when he makes his major league debut. A hitter is just one of nine. Starters have a spotlight normally, and that’s no different on Day 1. 

But the effect is further magnified on a contender. Fairly or not, a spot start on win-now team can flip a switch: make it easier for the manager to turn to you again, or vice versa. It’s just one game, and it shouldn’t be that way in such a random sport. Yet, that’s the reality when every game is meaningful and every choice a manager makes is scrutinized.

Jalen Beeks’ debut wasn’t a catastrophe, even if his five-run first inning was. The Sox have a clear vision of what they want the lefty to work on when he gets back to Triple-A Pawtucket: his pitch mix. The lefty was optioned after the Sox lost 7-2 on Thursday night to the Tigers, with Beeks lasting four innings and allowing six runs. He threw 88 pitches, 60 of them fastballs per BrooksBaseball.net.

“A lot of fastballs over the heart of the plate early,” manager Alex Cora said. “After that, he settled down and he started mixing up his breaking ball and his changeup. He started elevating, and it wasn’t the start that he wanted or we wanted from him. 

“After that first inning, he kept going, he kept attacking and he made some adjustments so we’re proud of the way he competed today.”

Consider a hypothetical: it’s August. The Sox have choices in the rotation. The safe move in terms of public reception for Cora may be to lean on a more known quantity. Hector Velazquez or Brian Johnson, if they happen to be stretched out, for example. (Who knows what the landscape looks like then?)

Cora, thus far, seems to march to his own drum. But he’s not immune to public perception, so how he’ll handle Beeks going forward will be interesting. Does he turn to him immediately when the Sox next need a starter? 

Sometimes, need and scheduling trumps all. If Beeks is fresh and on his turn, he may be the guy no matter what. Still, Beeks will need to show continued success at Pawtucket to make his return viable. Not in numbers so much as in approach.

“We’re going to map out a plan, and there’s going to be some adjustments as far as his pitch usage at that level,” Cora said. “Regardless of the results, it’s very important for him to use the breaking ball, and from there, he can use the fastball up. He’s been very successful down there in Triple-A with strikeouts and he’s been dominant. 

“At the same time, there’s another level and he needs to [reach] that. [Pitching coach Dana LeVangie] will talk to [Pawtucket pitching coach Kevin Walker] and they’ll make a plan and he’s going to start doing that."

Beeks was told after the game he was optioned back to the minors.

“We just told him that sometimes, it doesn’t matter the results,” Cora said. “You go down there and you start making adjustments as far as what we want you to do, and he’ll be fine.”

Blake Swihart, by the way, isn’t to blame for Beeks’ outing. A different catcher might have encouraged slightly different usage, but a pitcher that relies on deception simply wasn’t deceiving the opposition on Friday.

Beeks will be back. He’s not throwing 86 mph. He sits in the low-90s and can dial it up to the mid-90s. He's viable as a big leaguer.

What will be worth watching, though, is just how soon Beeks makes it back — particularly if the opponent is someone more impressive than the middling Tigers. 

"I think spin rate and his fastball will play at this level, but you have to mix it up,” Cora said. “You have to slow them down a little bit so the fastball plays up in the zone.”

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