Saltalamacchia more confident, ready for 2012

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Saltalamacchia more confident, ready for 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Last spring, Jarrod Salatalamacchia represented the Great Unknown for the Red Sox.

The club saw him as the likely No. 1 catcher, with veteran Jason Varitek transitioning to the backup role, but was unsure of exactly what it could expect from Saltalamacchia, who hadn't handled the workload or the responsibility before.

A year later, Saltalamacchia is more established and there's little doubt about his status.

"It seems to me he's a player who's trying to step right into his own," said manager Bobby Valentine. "It feels like this is his time. He's shown good physical skills in his catching and his
batting practice is good. He's trying to take a leadership role with the pitchers.

"We've had a lot of communications sessions. When I've gotten to those sessions, he's applying himself. (Bullpen coach and catching instructor) Gary Tuck likes him a lot."

Saltalamacchia survived a brutal April that saw him hit just .216, strike out nearly once every three at-bats and allow opposing baserunners to run at will. But the Red Sox stuck by him.

"It meant a lot," Saltalamacchia said. "It meant they do have that confidence in me, which is something in the past that I lacked. I got my confidence where it needed to be."

The team's patience paid off. For the middle four months of the season, Saltalamacchia compiled an .838 OPS, among the leaders in the position.

Later, Saltalamacchia also endured a rough final month, when he might have physically worn down and begun to press as the team began its 7-20 nosedive, playing itself out of a post-season spot.

"I saw we were struggling," he said, "and I thought maybe we needed that one big hit to get us back on track or that one big home run. Maybe I tried too hard. It was September. Last year was a huge learning experience for all of us, so we'll learn from that and get better."

With Varitek apparently retired, the Sox signed Kelly Shoppach as his backup. Valentine is unsure how he'll split the playing time between the two, but Saltalamacchia is unquestionably the starter.

In his second full season as the top receiver, Saltalamacchia knows there's still plenty of room for improvement.

"I'd like to be a little more consistent at the plate," he said. "Cut down strikeouts, try to put the ball in play, give our team best chance possible and just do whatever I can that game. I want to go home every night with a 'W.'"

Ryan Lavarnway, who started the final two games of the season as the team gasped for a win, will probably begin the year at Triple A.

Asked if he could envision a setup under which the Sox carried all three catchers, Valentine hinted that was a longshot.

"I haven't considered it," he said. "The American League affords you the opportunity to bring that extra pitcher and right now I'm thinking about carrying that person. I would think that a third catcher would have to be someone who plays other positions pretty well."

Thursday's Patriots-Bills practice report: Garoppolo, Brissett practice again

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Thursday's Patriots-Bills practice report: Garoppolo, Brissett practice again

FOXBORO -- The Patriots held a walkthrough on the field behind Gillette Stadium one day after both Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) tested their arms during the team's practice in full pads n Wednesday.

Both quarterbacks were back on the field, but for the second consecutive day they were limited, according to the injury report. That injury report was, in fact, unchanged from Wednesday's, meaning tight end Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) were also limited. 

There was one significant alteration to the Bills practice report, however, as tight end Charles Clay (knee) was back on the field Thursday. Receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) remained out. 

Patriots coach Bill Belichick described Watkins' explosive abilities in Buffalo's passing game earlier this week. 

"Watkins is big, he is good after the catch, he’s obviously good on the deep balls," Belichick said. "But he is good on catch-and-run plays. He can take those intermediate routes or crossing routes and turn a 10, 15-yard catch into 40. So, a hard guy to tackle, big, fast, very athletic."

If he can't go, the Bills will have to find other ways to try to manufacture yardage. 

Here's Thursday's practice participation report for the Patriots and Bills.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

BUFFALO BILLS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)

Thursday’s Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Pedroia sits, Owens on mound

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Thursday’s Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Pedroia sits, Owens on mound

The day after clinching the A.L. East title despite a loss, the Red Sox send out a semi-makeshift lineup Thursday night as they look to avoid a three-game sweep by the Yankees in the Bronx. 

Reserve third baseman Aaron Hill is leading off, Dustin Pedroia gets the night off, Deven Marrero starts at second base, and David Ortiz is, somewhat surprisingly, back in there at DH against left-hander C.C. Sabbathia (8-12, 4.02 ERA).

Left-hander Henry Owens (0-1, 7.79) gets the start for the Red Sox in place of Drew Pomeranz, who is bothered by tightness in his left forearm and will work out of the bullpen, if at all, for the final four games of the regular season.

The lineups:

RED SOX

Aaron Hill 3B

Andrew Benintendi LF

Xander Bogaerts SS

David Ortiz DH

Chris Young RF

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Ryan Hanigan C

Travis Shaw 1B

Deven Marrero 2B

Henry Owens LHP

 

YANKEES

Brett Gardner LF

Jacoby Ellsbury CF 

Gary Sanchez DH

Starlin Castro 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Chase Headley 3B

Brian McCann C

Aaron Hicks RF

Tyler Austin 1B

C.C. Sabathia LHP