Varitek plans to play beyond 2011


Varitek plans to play beyond 2011

By SeanMcAdam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek will turn 39 a few weeks into the regular season, an age when most players are eying retirement and the opportunity to relax.

Varitek is about to begin his 14th season with the Red Sox, all of them spent playing a punishing position.

But instead of getting closer to the finish line, Varitek hopes to keep playing. And not just for another season or two.

Asked Sunday if he could picture himself doing what Bob Boone (who played until 42) and Carlton Fisk (active until 45), Varitek didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely,'' he said. "I think once you're done playing, there's no making a comeback. If my body holds up and I'm able to do the things I can still do, I'll play as long I can.

"If I start compromising my livelihood for my kids and stuff later in life, then I've got to start questioning things. If I'm not putting myself in a competitive spot to help a team win, then I have to question things again.

"But . . . is that what I envision? Yes, that's what I envision . . . You can only play this game for so long and as long as your body holds out and you can be productive and do things. I love playing.''

This could be viewed as the second season of the rest of Varitek's career. Last year, for the first time since 2001, when he broke his elbow, Varitek didn't play at least 100 games, and while he missed time with a broken foot, that had little to do with injuries.

The Sox went with Victor Martinez as their primary catcher and Varitek was relegated to a backup spot. He embraced the role without complaint and, especially early in the season, hit well. When Varitek injured his foot in June, he had an OPS of .871, a way-more-than-respectable number for a 38-year-old catcher.

After rehabbing his foot, Varitek came back in September and was entirely out of rhythm at the plate, collecting just one hit in his final 17 at-bats.

Still, what Varitek took away from last year was the passion he still has for the game. The skills, he showed in the first half, are still there, too, as long as he's not overworked.

He would, of course, prefer to play more. But in time, he learned how to make the transition to backup.

"Accepted or embraced it, I think theres two different things because things can change in a hurry on one end,'' he said. "You cant not not be prepared. Just like Vic Martinez last year hitting his thumb, you got to be ready now right in the middle of that game. So accepting is different than embracing it. I think embracing whatever role that you have for the betterment of this team and trying to do what we want to do is win another championship.''

As Varitek recounted, the transition actually began the year before when Martinez, obtained at the July 31 trade deadline, became the de-facto starter behind the plate.

"I had a good month to two months of being in that role in 2009,'' he said, "It was at a different situation than it might have been having the ability to prepare for it, for winter, for spring training, etc. I think that was harder than it was doing it.

"But then I needed to learn what I need to do to stay sharp. That still will be a work in progress because I think we did a lot. We did things with catching instructor Gary Tuck and did things with hitting coach Dave Magadan that allowed that at different times. It allowed me to be a little more free and active on the bench and those type things.''

This season, Varitek will serve as the backup and mentor to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with whom he's highly impressed. A number of veteran pitchers have already remarked that Saltalamacchia's personality and style remind them of Varitek himself.

"Salty's going to be Salty,'' said Varitek. "Hopefully, he's not living with constant comparisons. I believe Salty is his own person and he's going be his own player. And he's extremely talented. I don't know if I had those abilities that he has when I was that young and breaking in.

"Yeah, we're both big catchers, we switch-hit, strong-armed throwers and love to play the game. But his work ethic and the things he's shown are the reason we've been able to create a bond right away.''

Varitek urges patience with Saltalamacchia and a chance to learn from his growing pains.

"We may see him great early in the season,'' he said, "or we may see him not-so-great early. But he's going to be a good player - no two ways about it. He's too gifted and works too hard not to be.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Right-handed starter Doug Fister, who opted out of his contract with the Angels, has been claimed off waivers by the Red Sox, CSN Red Sox Insider Evan Drellich has confirmed.

The news was first reported by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, who writes that Fister, 33, will join the Red Sox immediately.

Fister opted out of with the Angels after three Triple-A starts in Salt Lake City, where he allowed seven runs on 16 hits with five walks and 10 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

With Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson on the DL, the Red Sox need immediate starting pitching help. Triple-A Pawtucket call-up Hector Velazquez made a spot start earlier this week in the fifth spot behind Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price and Drew Pomeranz. 

Fister will receive $1.75 million in the majors from the Red Sox, with $1.2 million available in additional incentives, according to Cotillo. 

Fister has pitched eight seasons in the majors, including 2016 with the Astros, going 12-13 with 4.64 ERA in 180 1/3 innings. His best season was 2014 with the Nationals (16-6, 2.41 ERA).