By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
PAWTUCKET, R.I. Its not supposed to be easy for a player recently promoted to Triple A. Hes supposed to go through a period of adjustment, struggling in his first few weeks at least. Intimidated by his new surroundings. Wary of the veteran players. Overmatched by better pitching.
Apparently no one has told Ryan Lavarnway that.
Guys can come up here and they can intimidate themselves and think that they have to try to do something different, Lavarnway said. But its really the same game. Pitchers got to throw the ball over the plate, and you got to hit it.
He has certainly done that.
Since being promoted from Double-A Portland on June 13, Lavarnway has mashed International League pitching for a .337 average, going 49-for-130 in 34 games, with 12 home runs, 33 RBI, an on-base percentage of .445 and a .746 slugging percentage.
I think everybodys really surprised by it just because you see guys get hot for a week or so, said Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler, who also managed Lavarnway after his midseason call-up to Portland last year.
But its not surprising because of the consistency of his approach and how he goes about things. But even last year when he came up to Portland, he swung the bat really well when he started out and then went into a week or so where he wasnt as effective and then came back and swung the bat again. So you see guys go up and down. But to see a guy be as consistent as hes been, I think everybody's probably surprised at it. But he continues to do a good job and have good at-bats. Guys are pitching to him and he keeps hitting the ball hard.
Tuesday night against Lehigh Valley Lavarnway hit one of the hardest balls most observers at McCoy Stadium have seen in a long time. His 11th home run of the season landed on the roof of the concession shed in straightaway center field, a press box guesstimate of 435 feet.
Hes a smart hitter, said PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis. He works.
Hes selective at the plate. He works on his swing in the cage. He comes to batting practice, takes the same program, the same approach to BP and he goes in the games with that same approach. So theres a whole lot of trust for what he does in pregame that he takes into the game. He knows what his strengths are. Hes impressed me with how he approaches situations especially with RBIs, RBIs with two outs. Hes even more focused in those situations.
One at-bat in particular has impressed Davis.
A kid was closing a game the other day, Davis said. It wasa pretty close ballgame. The kid was throwing 94, 95 mph, and he had a pretty good curveball. Everyone was worried about his curveball and his fastball. I watched Ryan. He went up there and the pitcher threw him two fastballs and got behind in the count, 2-0. It was a situation where Ryan could hurt him, and he threw him a get-me-over hanging curveball and Lavarnway took it. He ended up working the count to 3-2 and the guy threw him a slider, or something down and he flew out to centerfield.
Lavarnway was out, but it was the discipline that impressed Davis.
After the game, we lost, and I looked at him and said, What a great at-bat, Davis said. And he looked at me. I said, Yeah, I know you made an out but what a great at-bat that was because that was discipline right there. A lot of hitters would be 2-0 cheating on a fastball and see the curveball, get out front, and make the out anyway, but you didnt. I said, You had two options there. Youve been hot. Youve beat him a couple times. You could say to yourself, hey this guy is not going to throw me a fastball. If he hangs something off-speed, Im going to beat him with it, and sit on that pitch. Its only one pitch. Or you could do exactly what you did: I dont care what you throw. Youre a power pitcher. Im sitting dead red and if I get dead red Im going to jump on it and if I dont, Im going to take it. And thats exactly what he did.
Hes not afraid to get beat. Hes not afraid to be behind in the count. Hes not afraid to get to two strikes. When youre swinging good and youre confident, you react. When youre not swinging good, and youve lost some confidence in your approach or your bat speed or whatever, then you start cheating and you start guessing. Then you dont want to be in a two-strike situation because the whole array of pitches comes at you then, including the kitchen sink.
Since being drafted by the Sox in the sixth round out of Yale in the 2008 draft, Lavarnway has hit at every level. In four seasons, he has a combined .291 average, with a .380 on-base percentage and .526 slugging percentage.
Its never been his offense that has been questioned.Drafted as a third baseman, he was moved behind the plate in his first season with the Sox. Some observers have questioned his ability there, though.Whether he ends up as a big league catcher remains to be seen.
Everybody always asks about his catching and his defense, said Beyeler. But all he does iscatch the ball and throw guys out. Thats all Ive seen in a year and half. Hes been solid since Ive seen him.
For Lavarnway, who turns 24 on Aug. 7, this is his first time working with an older staff. It can be intimidating for a younger catcher, learning the pitchers, their strengths and weaknesses, knowing which pitches to call in certain situations, and doing it with confidence.
I think maybe at first it can be intimidating until they get to know each other or until they get to know pitchers and how we talk, said right-hander Brandon Duckworth. Some guys I think it definitely could be. But were pretty laid back when it comes to that stuff here, and well talk to him. Were not afraid to say, Look, if you have a feeling on something, put the fingers back down. Theres got to be a reason. And, if it works, great, and if it doesnt work, you talk about it in between innings.' So I think its just mainly trying to help them with the focus more so in a situation, to have the confidence to say, Hey, this is the right pitch in this situation, this count.
This season, Lavarnway has thrown out 35 percent (19 of 55) of would-be basestealers between Portland and Pawtucket, 38 percent (14 of 37) with Portland and 28 percent (5 of 18). Those numbers are respectable, but some observers still have reservations.
I think hes a back-up catcher, said one scout. His receiving skills are ok. But he doesnt throw well. Hes not that athletic. He really has a below-average throwing arm, and its not like he has a real quick release either. But he receives the ball well, and blocks the ball OK. So you could get by. But eventually whats going to happen is his value is going to be how much offense he gives you. His bodys not going to get any better. Its just going to end up getting worse at some point, and its pretty thick right now.
When I evaluate catchers, if you dont really notice them, that means theyre doing a good job. The guys that are bad, theyre always bouncing left, bouncing right, turning around, calling time out. They really dont have a good feel for the game. This kid, obviously hes intelligent. You dont go to Yale if youre dumb. I think he has a feel for it. His actual receiving of the ball is fine, but his range and his throwing. But hes thrown out 29 percent of the runners this year. There are some guys in the big leagues that are less than that. Youre not going to know with a kid like this until he gets up there and you find out.
The Sox may find out with Lavarnway soon. He is a likely candidate for a September call-up if not before.
I think hes got the type of swing that I dont think theres a lot of maintenance there, where he could sit for a few days and still be able to square a ball up, if he comes in off the bench, said the scout.
When you get to the big leagues and youre facing CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and then you go to Detroit and youve got to face Justin Verlander, thats a whole different game. Those guys can put you in a slump in a hurry. They dont make the mistakes that other guys make. But there are guys that make mistakes. And, when you can hit with that type of power, they're going to want you around. I dont blame them.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.