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."