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Jarrod Saltalamacchia: A New Face For The Red Sox

The longest name in major league baseball history has finally landed in Pawtucket.

Two days after being traded from the Texas Rangers’ organization to the Boston Red Sox, Jarrod Saltalamacchia debuted for the Pawtucket Red Sox Monday night. In his first outing for the Red Sox’ triple-A affiliate, the 6’4”, 235-pound catcher walked in his first plate appearance and then was retired in his next four trips to the plate.

Despite his 0-for-4 performance in his PawSox debut, Saltalamacchia was optimistic about the way things have been going for him lately.

“The last four months I have been playing well,“and I am just looking to continue to do that here,” he said.

Saltalamacchia, once a top-prospect in the Braves minor league system, was traded along with Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones to the Rangers for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay at the 2007 trade deadline.

Just before Sunday’s trade deadline, Saltalamacchia was dealt for Chris McGuinness and Ramon Mendez in a move that felt like a long time coming for Red Sox brass and their fans.

Saltalamacchia, known to his teammates as “Salty”, acknowledged that he was aware of the rumblings and rumor mills in past seasons that once had him headed to Boston in exchange for Clay Buchholz.

“There have been three or four years where I’ve heard my name out there and thought it could be a possibility, but I have been at the point where I am focusing on making the big leagues and staying there,” Saltalamacchia said.

After going hitless in his debut, Pawtucket manager Torey Lovullo was not fazed by the lackluster offensive first-impression from his new catcher.

“I know he’s an offensive-minded catcher,” he said. “He got a couple of pitches that I know he would like to have back, and I’m sure he is going to be fine and start swinging the bat.”

In 63 games with Oklahoma City, the triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers in the Pacific Coast League, the switch-hitting catcher was hitting .244 with 11 home runs and 33 RBI.

“Overall, he has good bat speed, good balance and a good swing plane,” said Lovullo. “There was nothing bad there, so we will see where it takes him.”

On the season, the offensive numbers may be lackluster for a player who was ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America in 2006. But the focus of late for Saltalamacchia has not been his bat. The real concern has been with Saltalamacchia’s troubled throwing arm.

Saltalamacchia was the Opening Day starter for Texas, but was placed on the disabled list after the second game of the year with a right shoulder injury. He was then designated to the minor leagues in May after struggling to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

“It was a physical issue that I allowed to become mental, and once I realized it was a physical issue the mental part went out of the way,” the catcher said.

The ailment that physically plagued Saltalamacchia was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The syndrome caused numbness down his right arm and into his throwing hand. The cause of the numbness was an impinged nerve near his collarbone, and he had it treated by having his first rib removed on his right side.

“I couldn’t feel anything– there were times I just couldn’t feel the baseball in my hand” Saltalamacchia said.

Lovullo admits that he knew plenty about Saltalamacchia before he arrived in the Red Sox organization. But prior to Saltalamacchia’s debut Monday, he had not seen him work a ballgame. The problematic throws back to the pitcher were news to Lovullo, but he saw no warning signs of trouble in Saltalamacchia’s first game with the PawSox.

“I guess that is something that has been on his track record, but I didn’t see that [Monday],” Lovullo said. “The idea is to get the ball back to the pitcher so he could get on the mound, and he was doing that.”

When asked about what he has done to remedy the situation, post-surgery Saltalamacchia admittedly said that he used to try to show off his arm by firing the ball back to the pitcher. After experiencing his troubles, he now displays a much more relaxed throw back to his batterymate to maintain control and conserve energy.

Given the physical and mental nature of the catcher’s struggles, both the player and his new coach agree that the change of scenery just might be the best thing to reinvigorate his career.

“All-in-all I think the bumps in the road were a good thing to have happen to me,” said a retrospective Saltalamacchia, who expressed how thrilled he was to be welcomed by his new organization and to be playing baseball back on the East Coast.

Dusty Brown will be the other catcher splitting time with Saltalamacchia in Pawtucket. The PawSox have a logjam on their roster at the catcher position, with five catchers currently milling around the Pawtucket clubhouse. However, three of them- Mark Wagner, Juan Apodaca and Gustavo Molina- are inactive and listed on the seven-day DL.

Lovullo was not immediately sure how he was going to split playing time between the two catchers, but he said that he was sure he was not looking forward to rationing playing time when the other catchers started being activated.

Saltalamacchia has been a name that has been familiar to baseball fans since 2007 when he made his major league debut on May 1 of that season. Despite being a guy who has been around for a while, Saltalamacchia is still just 25-years old.

With the hype that surrounded Saltalamacchia in the Braves and Rangers system, it is not out of the question for Red Sox Nation to be wishfully penciling him in as a catcher-of-the-future for Boston.

When asked about the potential of being a long-term replacement for current catchers Jason Varitek, 38, and Victor Martinez, 31, Saltalamacchia expressed eagerness for the opportunity.

“I know [Varitek] has a legacy here that speaks for itself, and I hope to continue that legacy for a long time,” he said.

For now, Saltalamacchia will continue to go to work every day in Pawtucket. With Varitek, Martinez and Kevin Cash the three catchers in Boston, Saltalamacchia’s services will not be needed immediately with the big club.

But despite the path to the big leagues not being immediately clear for him, he is accepting of the work that is still ahead of him to reach his goal of being an everyday major league catcher.

“I’d like for an opportunity right now, but it is something I’ve got to work towards and get myself,” Saltalamacchia said.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein and the rest of the Red Sox upper-management have wanted Saltalamacchia for quite some time. After a few wayward years between the majors and minors, Saltalamacchia appears rejuvenated at his new opportunity.

“I’m looking for a fresh start and it just makes me happy that somebody wants me,” he said.

With Saltalamacchia landing in Boston, it appears that at long last the Boston Red Sox and their new catcher are both getting their wish.

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Red Sox Catcher Injuries: A View From Pawtucket

A series of toppled dominoes have rearranged the catching depth chart in the Boston Red Sox organization. As a result, Juan Apodaca and Daniel Butler are now making their new home for the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Red Sox’ triple-A affiliate.

Neither 23-year old figured in the equation as one of the top five catchers in the Sox’ system when the year started, yet both are now getting an opportunity to carve out a more permanent role in Pawtucket.

With mainstays Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett inactive, Red Sox Nation had enough injuries to agonize over prior to starting catcher Victor Martinez being bitten by the injury bug.

The ripples of those injuries are reaching all levels of the organization. “It’s not the ideal moment for us but we have been dealt the cards and we have to play them,” said Pawtucket head coach Torey Lovullo. “But what it does is provide a chance for some younger players to shine and we are looking for them to do that now.”

The Red Sox regularly carry two catchers on their active roster, and with Boston’s normal starting catcher Martinez being placed on the 15-day DL Tuesday with a broken thumb, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek will assume the role of starting catcher. In the aftermath of Martinez’ thumb injury, the focus shifted to Pawtucket to find Vartiek’s new backup.

In the event of an injury to either Martinez or Varitek, the opportunity for the backup job would normally fall in line to either Dusty Brown or Mark Wagner, the third and fourth ranked catchers in the organization. However, both catchers are currently injured and are on the seven-day disabled list- Brown with a sprained thumb ligament and Wagner with a broken bone in his hand.

The latest report from management is that both players are within 15 days of returning to the active roster. Brown is scheduled to have his cast removed in a week, and both he and the team were pleased with the news that no surgery would be required. Wagner will be returning to a hitting program in a few days and would be getting live at-bats a few days after that, according to Lovullo.

Despite missing out on an opportunity in 2010 with the big club, Brown appeared in seven games over two stints for Boston in 2009. In his first season of major league action, Brown went 1-for-3 with his lone hit being a homerun against the Indians.

As a result of the injuries to Brown and Wagner, Gustavo Molina was the next in line for a promotion and he is now serving as Jason Varitek’s backup in Boston.

“Talk about another great story with Gustavo getting called up and backing up now for the Boston Red Sox,” said Lovullo. “Unfortunately for Brownie and Wags they’ve been hurt but that’s what this game is all about- being in the right place at the right time.”

Prior to his promotion, Molina had 19 games of major league experience spanning two seasons with three teams: in 2007 he played a combined 17 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles and in 2008 he appeared in two games for the New York Mets.

When asked if he was surprised at Molina’s call-up this early in the season, Louvello said he wasn’t. “He put himself in a great situation by doing a great job in spring training, impressing the major league scouts, running some great ballgames and putting together some great at bats,” the head coach said.

Though, Lovullo was quick to acknowledge that the timing of the injuries to the regular triple-A catchers did pave the way to Boston for one of the less heralded minor league catchers. “Unfortunately with Wagner getting hurt and Dusty Brown getting hurt it wasn’t how it was supposed to be written up,” said Pawtucket head coach Torey Lovullo. “But it’s a game of opportunity and we are looking for [Apodaca and Butler] to impress just as Tito [Terry Francona] will look for Molina to impress in Boston”.

Juan Apodaca will be the new everyday starter for the PawSox in light of the revolving door at catcher in the Red Sox organization. “The past couple days he has done a great job of following a game plan, running a ballgame and reading swings. We are very pleased with what we saw.”

Apodaca has recorded a hit in each of his first four games with Pawtucket, including a blast to left field in his fourth game that went for his first triple-A homerun.

The backup backstop for Pawtucket will be Butler, who was called-up from Greenville Drive (A) of the South Atlantic League. In Greenville, he was hitting .316 in 55 games with five home runs including .382 over his last ten games.

Short of that, the scouting report was thin on Butler when he was called up to Pawtucket. “I’m just going on some scouting reports and some eyes that have seen him and they have said he is much like Apodaca,” said Lovullo. “He came from Greenville and he has got a long way to go between there and here with maturity and baseball knowledge but if you want to talk about the raw talent, he’s got it.”

Butler skipped over double-A for Portland, playing no games for the Sea Dogs, and a large part of that has to do with his ability as a game-caller not a sweet-swinger.

“He is not a ding-dong who can’t run a baseball game and that was the one reason he was chosen to come here,” said Lovullo. “He can block baseballs, control a pitching staff and run a baseball game, and we are looking for him to do that while he is here.”

Lovullo has had to work hard to manage Pawtucket’s roster amid all of the injuries and he has worked ever harder to find the silver lining in all of the shuffling the PawSox roster has endured over the past few weeks.  

“It sends a smoke signal to the rest of the guys in the organization that at any point in time you can be sent to another level to help contribute,” Lovullo said. “For these guys, there is nothing better than that: having hope.”

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