LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A.J. Pierzynski plays the game in his mind.
Let’s see, Clay Buchholz is Brad Radke. Jon Lester is Mark Buehrle, who also has a good cutter, but with more velocity and pitches. Right down the list, Pierzynski associates a past pitcher he’s caught with the Red Sox staff he currently is learning.
“I do a lot of comparing like that,” Pierzynski said. “It’s a good way to form a baseline on a guy and then you use what you learn about the pitcher and what he likes to throw in certain situations and counts and use your own knowledge of the game and pitching to formulate something that will work.
“Right now, things are going really well, I think. I caught Lester and he was outstanding. I’ve never had a pitcher like Lester who has the cutter he has to go along with the other pitches. Buehrle had [the cutter] but the velocity is different. I had [Jake] Peavy [in Chicago], so I know what he has.”
Late in his career, the 37-year-old Pierzynski has moved around. This is his third team in three years. He spent six years in Minnesota, one in San Francisco, eight in Chicago, and a year in Texas.
Pierzynski said his experience with the Rangers is already a bit different than with the Red Sox because “these guys are a little bit older than some of the guys in Texas. [Yu] Darvish, [Derek] Holland, [Matt] Harrison, guys that are really good but younger, and I hadn’t seen them as much. It helps to have [pitching coach] Juan Nieves here because we were together in Chicago, so we speak the same language. I know what he’s talking about. [Texas pitching coach] Mike Maddux was great last year, but I already had a relationship with Juan. If he says to do something a certain way, I get what he’s saying.”
Pierzynski also has had to get acclimated to his new surroundings. He arrived with the reputation of being one of the most hated men in baseball, but his teammates have embraced him and he’s been a true professional.
There’s a certain amount respect given to Pierzynski by the pitchers and position players because of his résumé. He won the World Series with the White Sox in 2005, overseeing a pitching staff in which Jon Garland won 18 games, Buehrle 16, Jose Contreras 15, and Freddy Garcia 14. The White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series.
Pierzynski went 4 for 9 with two home runs and four RBIs against Boston in the Division Series that year. Pierzynski learned to adapt to the White Sox, including fiery manager Ozzie Guillen. He felt comfortable in Chicago and comfortable hitting at U.S. Cellular Field.
After one year with the Rangers, when he hit 17 homers and 70 RBIs, Pierzynski gets to make Fenway Park his home.
“When you come into a new situation you have to get used to everything. New staff, new manager, new teammates,” he said. “You have to learn everything about the culture of that team because these guys formed a bond because they won together. Now I come in and I have to learn to fit in. The hardest thing is changing teams for the first time, but I’ve been through it so I know what to expect.”
Pierzynski has been impressed with the “open communication” of the pitching staff, helping him get up to speed.
“Very fortunate they’ve opened up to me, and [David] Ross has been good for me in terms of what I need to look for. He’s been huge,” Pierzynski said.
The best aspect of Pierzynski’s game is his hitting. The Red Sox feel that Pierzynski, who went 1 for 3 in Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Braves, will help smooth out some of the rough spots they encountered at times with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They will get an experienced hitter, albeit an aggressive hitter who is not in the Red Sox’ grind-it-out mold.
He could do some damage at Fenway, where he can go the other way to the wall.
“You always think you can do better,” Pierzynski said of his offense this spring. “Making solid contact with line-drive outs, which isn’t great once the season starts, but down here I feel I’ve been getting a lot of good at-bats and hitting the ball hard.”
As for Fenway, “I know it’s a great ballpark for lefthanded hitters if you use the whole field,” said Pierzynski. “It’s been great for David [Ortiz] and I know it was a good place for Adrian Gonzalez when he was there, where fly balls turn into doubles. We’ll see. When you’re coming in three or four times a year, you don’t really think about what ballpark you’re in or making adjustments to your swing.”
Pierzynski is a career .322 hitter at Fenway but has never homered there in 121 plate appearances, something he considers a fluke.
Another major adjustment for Pierzynski will be not playing as often. His fewest games played as a starting catcher was 114 for the Twins in 2001, when he was 24. The Red Sox would like to limit him to 100-110 games this season.
Pierzynski, who turned down a two-year deal from the Twins to join the Red Sox, was on board with the workload when it was presented to him by manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington.
Pierzynski hasn’t shown the feistiness he’s known for in spring training, but as one coach pointed out, “He’s saving it up for the regular season. It’ll be fun to see that energy and adrenaline flow. He’s a pretty passionate guy.”
While Pierzynski adjusts to the pitchers, the pitchers must also adjust to him. It’s not easy when the staff seemed comfortable with Saltalamacchia.
But as Lester pointed out, “A.J. is learning what we do. It’s a hard job, but he’s doing it very well. I feel real comfortable throwing to him.”