BALTIMORE — The Red Sox met with each player at the end of last season and again at the start of spring training. The idea was to define expectations and get any concerns out in the open.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia got the same message both times: the team was concerned with his ability to finish the season strong.
The catcher hit .162 in September of 2011 and .180 in the final month of the 2012 season.
“They made it pretty clear it was an issue for them,” Saltalamacchia said Friday. “They told me, they told my agent. But I knew that, too. They didn’t have to tell me.”
That topic won’t come up again in the next meeting. Saltalamacchia’s RBI double in the third inning of a 12-3 win over the Orioles Friday night extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
Saltalamacchia is hitting .306 this month with eight extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in 14 games.
The double was his 40th of the season, a record for a Red Sox catcher. Among active players, only Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and Yadier Molina have had 40-double seasons while serving primarily as catchers.
Saltalamacchia believes the late-season production is a result of his maturing as a player. He did not become an everyday player until 2011 at age 26. Over time, he has learned how to take care of his body and stay fresh over the season.
“The only way I could prove myself was to go out and do it. You learn as you go about it what works for you,” he said.
Saltalamacchia used to lift weights only on occasion during the season. Now he makes it a habit to lift once or twice a week to maintain his strength.
“Taking care of your body, getting enough rest. That’s the kind of thing you have to figure out,” Saltalamacchia said. “Everybody is different.”
Saltalamacchia has started 110 games behind the plate, the most of his career and more than the Red Sox originally anticipated. The loss of backup David Ross for two months with a concussion led to his playing more.
Saltalamacchia worked with manager John Farrell to decide how much time off was needed. There were compromises on each side.
“I wanted to play more earlier in the season. But looking back, that was better for me,” Saltalamacchia said. “I want to be in there every day but being a catcher, you’re going to get worn down sometimes.
“You want to get better every year and for me, it was finishing strong. That was a goal of mine. It’s been in my head all season to do well in the second half. I knew I could do it.”
Saltalamacchia said the atmosphere around the team has contributed to his success.
“It’s always easier when you’re playing with a group of guys who want to put the work in,” he said. “I think we’ve all done that. That’s why we’re playing so well as a team right now.”
Victorino given rest
Shane Victorino did not play because of the sprained right thumb he has been dealing with for 10 days or so. It was not his choice.
“I can tell you this, that in my exchange with him he wasn’t real happy about being out of the lineup,” Farrell said. “He’s dealing with something and probably seven other guys on the field are dealing with something as well.”
Farrell said he fully expected Victorino would be back in right field on Saturday.
The Sox did get first baseman Mike Napoli back. He was given four games off to rest the plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Napoli, playing for the first time since Sept. 20, was 1 for 3 with two walks. He had an RBI double in the first inning.
“He feels fresh. He feels like he’s gotten over some of the soreness in his foot,” Farrell said. “The one thing that we discussed internally was that with the downtime this should allow him to get through the remaining season, whatever remains, in good shape.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter does not hide his desire to beat the Red Sox. So it should come as no surprise that he plans to start Chris Tillman on Sunday if the game has any significance to the Sox.
Tillman is 16-7 with a 3.62 earned run average. He is 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts against the Red Sox this year.
“It has nothing to do with trying to rain on somebody’s parade,” Showalter said. “It’s just compete and do what’s right.”
Once the Red Sox set their playoff roster, they’ll designate a handful of players to remain with the team as possible injury replacements. A third group of players will be assigned to work out at the team complex in Fort Myers, Fla., as a second layer of depth . . . Jake Peavy mentioned Thursday that he could pitch in relief this weekend. Farrell indicated that was unlikely. The Sox have what Farrell called “a punch list” of relievers to get work over the final three games. Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara each pitched an inning on Friday . . . In his second game back after missing 16 games with a fractured bone in his right foot, Jacoby Ellsbury was 0 for 4 and played seven innings in center field. He twice lined out. Ellsbury is 1 for 6 with a walk since his return . . . The Sox are 17-7 in September, their most wins in the month since 2005 . . . Stephen Drew had his eighth triple, tied for the third in the AL . . . The Sox are 44-35 on the road with wins in nine of their last 12 games . . . The Sox, who lead the league in custom T-shirts, broke out a new model before the game. The front says “3 lines, 2 Chainz, 1 goal” and the back has an image of a duck boat. Three lines refers to the lines the players have shaved into the back of their heads. 2 Chainz is a hip-hop artist and a favorite of David Ortiz.