Rest serves Saltalamacchia well

Rest serves Saltalamacchia well
September 14, 2013, 12:00 am
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BOSTON -- It all flowed so well. A snap shot of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's big left-handed swing, and his high, looping follow-through -- the one where the tip of his bat ends up in the dirt behind him -- could have been taken in April, back when he was fresh and anticipating the long season ahead.

His seventh-inning hack was quick and hearty, and it lofted Preston Claiborne's 92 mile-per-hour fastball over the Red Sox bullpen and into the right field seats at Fenway Park for what proved to be the game-winning grand slam of Boston's 8-4 win over New York.

Less than two weeks ago, Saltalamacchia couldn't swing with quite the same force. Hampered by back trouble, he sat out five games from Sept. 3 through Sept. 7.  

"It was bothering me for a good month and then in a game against Baltimore I kind of aggravated it a little bit," Saltalamacchia said. "I tried to play through it for a week, but the last game I felt I wasn’t helping the team. I was doing things I wasn’t used to doing. We had come too far and worked too hard, done too much. I felt it was the right thing to do and take a couple of days off and get it right so I could get back to where I was and help the team."

In the top of the seventh inning, with a 4-2 lead, Red Sox lefty reliever Craig Breslow entered for starter John Lackey and quickly relinquished Boston's two-run advantage. After striking out Curtis Granderson, he walked Alex Rodriguez and allowed a hard-hit double to Robinson Cano that scored two inherited runners to tie the game.

With the bases loaded in the bottom half of the frame, Saltalamacchia turned on the first fastball he saw.

"Really I was just trying to get a good pitch to put in the air," he said. "With [Shane Victorino] at third, fast guy, if I put it out there in the air he’s gonna be able to score. I saw how [Claiborne] pitched Nava. I know he had good stuff. I think I only faced him once so I didn't have a lot of experience with him, but I just needed a strike up in the zone that I could do something with."

Coming in to Friday night's game, Saltalamacchia had struggled for about a month. In 15 games, he had hit .212 with a .300 on-base percentage and a .385 slugging percentage -- all significantly lower than his season averages (.260/.330/.442).

After Friday's win, Red Sox manager John Farrell thought that the rest Saltalamacchia got helped his catcher be ready at the plate on Friday. Saltalamacchia went 2-for-3 on Friday with a home run, a double, four RBI and two runs scored.

"He needed a couple days at the time," Farrell said of the decision to sit Saltalamacchia. "He felt like he was ready to go in New York, even on Saturday, but we gave him even another day. He got four or five days down which gave him a chance to kind of get fresh and it's showing up in his game. Whether it's the transfer in his throws, which have been strong. The freedom in the low back has allowed that swing to play as we've seen before. He's doing a hell of a job with a little extra rest right now."

Saltalamacchia has already caught 935 innings behind the plate this season -- well over his previous career high of 856 in 2011. He has been pressed into action thanks in part to the concussion issues that have plagued fellow Red Sox backstop David Ross, but still he said he feels fresh in part because he has been behind the plate more consistently.

"I was DH-ing the last two months of the season last year," Saltalamacchia said. "That’s not what I am and that’s not what I’m used to. When I catch I’m a better hitter and a better contributor to the team. I think being able to catch and staying loose and being involved in the game helps me."

That Farrell and the Red Sox felt as though they could afford to sit their starting catcher for five games is a testament to the team's depth, and its ability to withstand injury. Over the course of the season, key players like Clay Buchholz, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and now Jacoby Ellsbury have been forced to miss time. However, throughout, the Red Sox have continued to win, giving their regulars the opportunity to get healthy, come back and chip in.

"That's been the key to this season," Farrell said. "Not to take anything away from the individual performances, but the depth has allowed us to go to a guy when someone else needs a day or three. (General manager) Ben (Cherington) has put together a very good roster."