Ortiz injury could open door for Lavarnway

Ortiz injury could open door for Lavarnway
March 12, 2013, 6:15 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Until both David Ortiz and the Red Sox acknowledged over the weekend that Ortiz would not, in all likelihood, be ready to start the season, Ryan Lavarnway's path to the big leagues appeared temporarily blocked.
      
The return of Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- whom the Sox would have been open to dealing last winter had they gotten enough in return -- and the signing of veteran backup David Ross gave the Sox a dependable catching tandem. That, coupled with the fact that Lavarnway has options remaining, meant the former Yale star would be returning to Pawtucket.
      
But Ortiz's lagging heel injury may have created an opening for Lavarnway, even if it's only temporary. The Sox are searching for Ortiz's replacement, and Lavarnway, who has a powerful righthanded strike, could fill the need.
      
Filling in for Oritz, after all, is how Lavarnway got to the big leagues in the first place. In August of 2011, with Ortiz injured, Lavarnway joined the Red Sox in Kansas City and got some time at DH.      

It was not a new position for him, having served as the designated hitter in the minors when he and former Red Sox catching prospect Tim Federowicz were playing for the same affiliate.
      
Oddly enough, despite the experience at DH, John Farrell has noticed better at-bats when Lavarnway has been catching rather than when he's been solely a DH.
      
"I know there's only 20-plus at-bats in spring training," said Farrell, "but that's a shift for a young player to not be on both sides of the ball, in-game. Whether that's just getting back into the flow of things and getting timing...that's just what's been seen in camp so far.
      
"I'm not saying he couldn't do it, but that's just what I've seen."
      
"It's something I can do if I'm asked do it," said Lavarnway, adding that he hoped Ortiz would defy expectations and be ready for the opener.
      
After a strong first half of 2012 at Pawtucket, where International League managers selected him as the league's best defensive catcher, Lavarnway struggled in the final two months with the Sox, hitting just .157 with two homers and 12 RBI in 46 games.
      
"Catching five or six days a week instead of just three our four was a big adjustment," Lavarnway said, "and I learned how to do it. And I'm happy with how last year went."
      
The Sox believed that Lavarnway was worn out by the catching workload by the time he was promoted
      
"I refused to (let the workload serve as excuse) at the time," said Lavarnway. "I feel like once you admit weakness, you're in trouble. Looking back, I'm not prepared to make excuses. But it's a possibility. I'm still working on my routine as I go through the year, especially with a higher workload of catching as far how heavy I want to work out in the weight room and where to keep my weight and a number of other things that I think all young players need to learn."
      
Either way, the Red Sox like what they've seen from Lavarnway at the plate this spring.
      
"He's shown that he's back to that middle-of-the-field approach," said Farrell. "This is a guy who has high doubles (capability), upper teens, 20-home run type of guy who's going to hit for a good average. I don't see him as a guy who is susceptible to righthanded or left-handed pitching; I see him as a guy who can handle both."
      
If Lavarnway can provide some sock from the right side, it could get him some early-season playing time with Ortiz sidelined. But ultimately, the Sox still think of him as having a high ceiling behind the plate and nothing Farrell has seen this spring has changed that perception.
      
"I think he's handled behind the plate not only well," said Farrell, "but better than having seen him last year. I know last year was the most (number of) games he's caught in his professional career and there might have been some fatigue factor late in the season.
      
"But's he come into camp not only in good shape but he looks stronger than he did at the end of last year. He's thrown the ball well behind the plate in terms of quickness and accuracy. He's done a good job."
      
Farrell has noted that Lavarnway's catching style is more "quiet - he's funneling pitchers into his frame, rather than reaching and stabbing for pitchers. Because of his intelligence, he's quickly able to get a feel for a pitcher on a given day and use that in a game plan and executing it. The control of the running game, all the finer points inside -- he's a smart guy, so the game doesn't speed up on him.
      
"From a physical standpoint, I know he's worked hard at changing his arm stroke, to the footwork that's needed for the transfer. While he's still a work in progress, he's come quite a way in the physical side of catching."