Editor's note: Please welcome the newest contributor to King Myno's Court, Dave "The Bear Jew" Goldstein. Dave will be our resident Boston Red Sox expert, blogging all about baseball, and he's also our default guru on Judaic principles...if you have any questions about all that shit. Wish him welcome!
Jason Varitek turned 39 last Monday, and he looks the part. In a recent game, his first at bat against Oakland's Gio Gonzalez featured a horrific late swing on a third strike. In his second at bat, he killed a rally by grounding into a double play. Then he popped up.
Given that Gonzalez went into the start with a 0.47 ERA, maybe I should give Tek a break. But his slash line was .063/.167/.063 coming in, and that was mostly batting from his "strong" right side. He's always had a pretty big hole in his swing, but he managed to get by with good power and enough bat speed to catch up to a fastball. He simply doesn't have that anymore, nor can he summon the arm strength to throw out runners. He's basically on the roster for nostalgia's sake, along with his plethora of experience in calling a game.
There's no question that Varitek is an expert behind the dish; the wise old sage who knows just which fingers to put down. But Johnny Bench, he is not. And that's fine, if he is a backup catcher. The problem is that he isn't getting the playing time of a backup. He's played in 7 of the teams first 17 games, which is far too many for a man with one hit.
We all know who the Sox would like to have catching every day, but that man remains a work in progress. So far, the once highly touted Jared Saltalamacchia hasn't hit any more than Tek has. His slash line looks like this: .194/.256/.222. Not exactly Ruthian, but he's also not exactly the only member of the Sox struggling at the plate. And while his early at bats were positively awful, he's shown a bit more patience lately, along with some pitch recognition and the occasional bit of contact. It's not much, but it's a start.
At the same time, however, the pitching staff has struggled with him behind the plate. Varitek has guided Sox pitchers to an ERA of 2.40, but with Salty it's been 7.14. It's too small a sample size to rule out Saltalamacchia's abilities to call a game, and he is fairly new to the Red Sox. There are bound to be some growing pains and adjustments followed by improvement. So again, for now, this is a minor concern.
But here's the kicker: Salty can't throw. Before he joined the Red Sox, Salty went through a period where he couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher, which kind of puts a damper on the whole catching thing. By the time he joined the Sox, he had worked it out, but his throws to the rest of the diamond sure look awful. Baserunners have been running without fear, like kids in some kind of store. Salty's throws aren't just late; they're erratic. He's thrown into the outfield, into the dirt, and into the runner. Only diving plays by infielders have saved runs from scoring. He has even missed the pitcher with a few nonchalant lobs, bringing back memories of his previous issue.
This may work itself out, as Salty is doubtlessly working with the staff to improve his throwing mechanics, his swing and his game calling. And despite the horrific start all around, the Red Sox probably won't panic with him any more than they will with the rest of the team. They knew going into the season that the young backstop would need a lot of work to become a stalwart; they just didn't know that every chink in the April armor would suddenly be magnified.
Keep an eye out in the summer, however, because that's when the front office could be very well decide that Saltalamacchia and Varitek don't have what it takes to catch for the Olde Towne Team. If that is the case, then where shall they turn?
The minors have some catching talent, but most of it is too young to make an impact for some time, and we all know that Mike Scioscia is hospitalized with a potentially fatal dose of radiation poisoning. At this point, it's a trade, an unproved youngster, or Bengie Molina. Hmm, I wonder how drunk Brian Sabean would have to be to trade Buster Posey for Dice-K...