Varitek re-signs with Boston; Okajima non-tendered

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Varitek re-signs with Boston; Okajima non-tendered

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

Not long ago, the Red Sox catching situation looked uncertain. Now, even before the start of the annual winter meetings, it appears solved.

The Red Sox Thursday agreed with veteran Jason Varitek on a one-year contract worth 2 million with 300,000 in additional incentives. The deal will bring Varitek back for a 13th season with the club, making him the second-longest tenured player with the team after pitcher Tim Wakefield.

Varitek, as he did in 2010, will serve primarily as the team's backup catcher. After pairing with Victor Martinez last year, Varitek will work as the reserve behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom the Sox envision as the No. 1 receiver in 2011.

Varitek hit .232 with 7 homers and 16 RBI in 39 games last year, but his OPS of .766 was his highest figure since 2007.

He'll be asked to mentor Saltalamacchia, who, at 25, has played almost 1,300 fewer games than Varitek, the team's all-time leader in games played as a catcher. Varitek can help Saltalamacchia out when it comes to game-planning and preparation and share his knowledge of the league and its hitters.

Both Saltalamacchia and Varitek are switch-hitters, but Saltalamacchia, for now at least, is more proficient from the left side and Varitek more potent from the right side. That split will allow manager Terry Francona to spot Varitek mostly against opposing lefthanded starters.

Finally, Varitek will be asked to help get both John Lackey and Josh Beckett back on track. Beckett made no secret of his preference to throw to Varitek over Martinez last year, while Lackey was inconsistent from start to finish.

The Sox elected not to tender a contract to Hideki Okajima Thursday, the deadline for offering contracts to players eligible for salary arbitration.

The move makes Okajima a free agent immediately, but does not preclude him from re-signing with the Red Sox.

Also non-tendered: Pitchers Andrew Miller and Taylor Buchholz, both of whom were acquired since the end of the season. The Sox will most likely attempt to sign both for less money than they would have commanded had they been tendered contracts.

Okajima, who joined the Red Sox prior to the 2007 season, made 2.75 million last season. Had the Sox offered him a contract before Thursday midnight, it would have had to have been at least 80 percent of the 2.75 million he earned in 2010, or, 2.2 million.

For a reliever who has been less and less effective over his three seasons with the Sox, that made little financial sense.

If Okajima returns to the Sox, it will be as a lefty specialist, a role that current pays about half of that projected 2.2 million figure.

As the bullpen is currently constituted, the Sox have only one left-hander: Felix Doubront, who pitched in relief for the Sox in the second half of 2010 before missing the final month with a neckshoulder injury. Miller, however, is also left-handed.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays lineups: Pedroia returns, Pomeranz on mound

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Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays lineups: Pedroia returns, Pomeranz on mound

Dustin Pedroia returns to the lineup after missing two games to attend a family funeral as the Red Sox play the middle game of their three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays tonight at Fenway Park.

Pedroia is back at second base, batting leadoff, as the Red Sox look to make it two in a row coming off a 9-4 victory on Monday night.

Brock Holt, who filled in a second in Pedroia’s absence, moves to left field and Bryan Holaday catches left-hander Drew Pomeranz (10-10, 2.95 ERA) for Boston. Pomeranz struck out a career-high 11 in his last start against the Rays, last Thursday in St. Petersburg. 

Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (9-5, 3.53) starts for the Rays.

The lineups:

RAYS

Logan Forsythe 2B

Kevin Kiermaier CF

Evan Longoria 3B

Brad Miller 1B

Matt Duffy DH

Tim Beckham SS

Scott Souza Jr. RF

Corey Dickerson LF

Luke Maile C

Jake Odorizzi RHP

 

RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Xander Bogaerts SS

David Ortiz DH

Mookie Betts RF

Hanley Ramirez 1B

Travis Shaw 3B

Brock Holt LF

Bryan Holaday C

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Drew Pomeranz LHP

 

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

BOSTON - With one quick flick of his wrists Monday night, Mookie Betts drove a pitch into the Monster Seats, marking his 30th homer of the season.

The homer put Betts into exclusive company in team history. Only two others before him -- Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro -- had ever reached the 30-homer milestone before turning 24. 

It's a reasonable assumption that, with five weeks still to play in the regular season, Betts will more than double his home run total (18) from last year, a remarkable jump.    

More to the point, Betts wasn't projected as a power hitter. In 2011 and 2012, Betts played the first 72 games of his pro career career without hitting a single homer. 

The power began to manifest itself somewhat the following year when he belted 15 homers between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, but still, few envisioned that Betts would show this kind of power at the major league level.

He was athletic, with extra-base capability, and speed. But a 30-home run hitter? That wasn't in the cards.

"That's pretty cool, hitting 30,” allowed Betts after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Tampa Bay. "But that's not the reason we play.''

 For several minutes, Betts did his best to deflect questions about his milestone, consistently emphasizing team goals "first and foremost” over his own personal achievements.

"Trying to affect the game in some form or fashion,” he shrugged. "We're in a race right now and that's way more important[than individual stats].”

Still, Betts himself acknowledged that his homer total has come as something of a revelation.

"I definitely wasn't expecting [this kind of] power,'' he said. "But I'll take it while it's here.''

Maybe the power explosion shouldn't come as a shock, however. Betts has always demonstrated exceptional strength and fast reflexes, exhibiting the sort of "quick-twitch'' athleticism that make scouts drool.

He's improved his pitch selection and recognition, and it surely hasn't hurt to be part of a powerful Red Sox lineup that currently has him hitting behind David Ortiz and in front of Hanley Ramirez.

"Experience...knowing when and when not to turn on balls,” Betts explained further. "There's a whole bunch of things that kind of go into it.”

As he's gained confidence, Betts now picks certain counts where he allows himself to take bigger swings, though he's careful to  point out that he's not ever trying to hit homers.

"Not necessarily trying to hit a home run,'' he offered, "but trying to drive [the ball]. Those things come with experience and knowing when and when not to. I'm not trying to hit a home run. They just kind of come.''

In this, just his second full season in the big leagues, they're coming more and more frequently -- whether anyone expected it or not.

     

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises, were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.