PawSox' Lavarnway tearing up Triple-A

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PawSox' Lavarnway tearing up Triple-A

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.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.