KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Playing time is something Jarrod Saltalamacchia has never taken for granted. The 28-year-old Red Sox catcher has already been traded twice and had numerous injuries to overcome during his career.
But lately, Saltalamacchia walks into the clubhouse without giving the lineup card a glance. The Red Sox have relied heavily on Saltalamacchia this season and he’s flourishing under the workload.
Saltalamacchia is third in the American League in innings caught with 758⅓ going into Friday night’s game against Kansas City. He is on a pace to finish with more than 1,000 innings for the first time in his career.
Among AL catchers with at least 325 plate appearances, Saltalamacchia is fourth with a .777 OPS. A .239 career hitter coming into the season, Saltalamacchia is hitting .265 and has 39 extra-base hits, four short of his career high.
Saltalamacchia was 2 for 4 with an RBI double in Friday’s 9-6 loss against Kansas City.
“I love playing as much as I have. The more I play, the better I feel and the more confidence I have,” Saltalamacchia said. “Physically, I feel pretty good. It’s not Opening Day but my body has held up pretty well.”
Saltalamacchia also has improved defensively, particularly in how he receives certain pitches and in calling the game. Pitchers who once preferred other catchers have come to trust his decisions.
“There has been a good relationship this season. The pitchers have done an unbelievable job,” Saltalamacchia said. “I’ve felt like we’re in a good rhythm.”
The process is easier mentally this season with pitching coach Juan Nieves and bullpen coach Dana Levangie preparing game plans. During the chaos of last season with the feuding coaching staff, Saltalamacchia and the pitchers often did most of that work alone.
“The coaches have the information you need and they help us implement it,” he said. “It’s a good process, unlike last year. We’re all on the same page.”
Manager John Farrell said Saltalamacchia has gone beyond that.
“Where I think he’s done a very good job is taking a guy’s given strengths on a particular start and applying them to reading swings. There’s been, even from the start of this year, steady improvement,” Farrell said.
Levangie, who doubles as the catching instructor, worked with Saltalamacchia on how he catches low pitches, which has helped his ability to frame that pitch and get more called as strikes.
“I’m on his side and he knows that,” Levangie said. “I’m here to support him and give him what he needs. I’m thrilled with how he’s done. He’s one of the better guys in the league right now.”
John Lackey said the difference is noticeable.
“Catchers have a lot to learn and he’s had to absorb a lot with the different managers and coaches,” Lackey said. “But now he’s one of the better guys in the league when you look at everything. He’s been pretty much the everyday catcher on a first-place team. Not much more you can say than that.”
Saltalamacchia will be a free agent after the season and hopes to stay with the Red Sox. He likes playing for Farrell and working with pitchers he now regards as friends. After stagnating in the Texas organization, he hopes Boston will be a long-term home.
The organization, to this point, has not opened negotiations.
“I try not to think about it too much. Hopefully it will work out,” Saltalamacchia said. “But I feel like regardless of what happens, I’ve established that I can catch at this level and be successful. That was my goal all along.
“I can’t say I’m satisfied, but I’m going in the right direction with everything.”
Clay Buchholz threw 40 pitches in the bullpen and came away feeling encouraged about his right shoulder.
“Felt good,” Buchholz said. “Everything is coming along. Feels like arm is catching up to the body a little bit better, and there’s nothing inside of my head when I’m going through the motion.”
Buchholz, who has been on the disabled list since June 9, threw 27 pitches in the bullpen in Houston on Tuesday.
“I threw harder, more intense today. Threw all my pitches,” he said. “It feels a lot different than it did the first time around [before the All-Star break]. I definitely can feel it getting better.”
Buchholz is scheduled to throw again Sunday and again in Toronto on Tuesday. From there, he could work his way up to a simulated game later next week.
The Sox have Buchholz throwing every three days as he builds up arm strength. The team has been careful not to reveal any timetables, but Buchholz could rejoin the rotation late this month on the current pace.
The All-Star righthander is 9-0 with a 1.71 earned run average in 12 starts. His return could be a difference maker in the final weeks of the season.
Morales on the way
Farrell indicated that lefthander Franklin Morales would be activated on Saturday. The reliever, who has been on the DL since June 23 with a strained pectoral muscle, pitched in five minor league games. Righthanded reliever Pedro Beato, who allowed three hits and a run over 1⅓ innings Friday night, is headed back to Pawtucket . . . The Sox are 1-4 against the Royals this season with two games to play. It’s their first loss of the season series since 2006 . . . Stephen Drew is 16 of 37 over a 10-game hit streak . . . Third basemen Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder are 5 for 37 (.135) since the trade of Jose Iglesias. The duo is hitless in the last 18 at-bats.
Ross is ready
Dr. Michael Collins, a concussion specialist, cleared backup catcher David Ross to start his rehab assignment. Ross is scheduled to DH for Double A Portland on Saturday and progress from there. The Sox would want Ross to catch back-to-back days before activating him . . . The Sox announced the signing of four 16-year-old international prospects: third baseman Rafael Devers (Dominican Republic), lefthander Enmanuel DeJesus (Venezuela), lefthander JhonathanDiaz (Venezuela), and center fielder YoanAybar (Dominican Republic) . . . Major League Baseball changed an official scorer’s call from the July 27 game at Baltimore. Stephen Drew was given an error on a ball initially called a single for J.J. Hardy in the eighth inning. As a result, Junichi Tazawa did not allow an earned run.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.