HOUSTON — No, we’re not going to hold A.J. Pierzynski accountable for all 51 losses, but give Christian Vazquez an “attaboy” for his very impressive start in the majors.
He caught, what scouts who watched him Wednesday night at Fenway against the White Sox in his debut, a “perfect game.”
No dropped balls. Nice framing technique, which he learned from the Molina brothers working with them in Puerto Rico.
Good footwork. Balance. Real nice, the scouts said.
And while there were a few growing pains with John Lackey in the Red Sox’ 8-3 win over the Astros on Friday, mostly in terms of pitch-calling and getting on the same page with sequences on the signals, Vazquez again caught a very good game.
There was that nonchalant, one-handed attempt of Jon Singleton’s popup in the sixth inning which was ruled an error after the Red Sox asked for a review, feeling Vazquez had lost it on the transfer. But he lost it because he didn’t secure the ball.
And nobody felt worse than Vazquez, who was kicking himself for the poor play.
“I thought I caught it, but it fell out. But I thought I made the catch,” Vazquez said.
But the most impressive thing?
Batting ninth, his first three at-bats resulted in hits. Productive hits.
A single to left in the third, which led to a run when Brock Holt knocked him in with a single. In the fourth, Vazquez doubled to right field, knocking in Stephen Drew with two outs. And in the sixth, after the Astros walked Drew intentionally to load the bases with one out, Vazquez hit a two-run double to right to make it a 5-1 game.
Vazquez said he “felt good staying in the middle of the field.”
Vazquez said the key is “not pulling the ball or trying to hit home runs. It felt good with the bat tonight.”
A lot of people in the game think Vazquez can be the next Carlos Ruiz. He’s shaped like him, looks like him behind the plate. He’s very solid technically on defense, and now his hitting is starting to emerge.
Vazquez went 0 for 3 in his debut Wednesday. Any starting catcher has to hit somewhat to keep his job. Vazquez will enter next season as the starter, so to see offense is important.
He hit .279 at Pawtucket with three homers and 20 RBIs in 66 games. That’s not exactly eye-popping, but when you watch Vazquez’s mannerisms behind the plate and the leadership and energy he brings, there’s nothing not to like.
The fact that he was able to catch Lackey, who may be the pitcher most demanding of his catchers, and not get flustered by Lackey’s shake-offs and huddles, tells you this kid is pretty tough.
Lackey had made 18 starts with Pierzynski as his catcher and had done pretty well — 9-6 with a 3.84 ERA. It’s always tough for a pitcher who is used to throwing to a certain catcher to all of a sudden change.
The hardest thing Vazquez has to do is get used to catching new pitchers, especially experienced ones. Pitchers eat young catchers alive if there are mixed signals, but Vazquez seems intent on being a quick study.
Dumping Pierzynski and adding Vazquez has worked out well for the Red Sox. If Pierzynski exuded a negative attitude, according to his coaches and teammates, Vazquez has brought that youthful exuberance to the team.
He also gets to learn a lot from David Ross and catching coach Dana LeVangie. He couldn’t have two better teachers.
Ross may also be with him next season if the Red Sox elect to give Ross another year of being a backup and mentor to Vazquez. Then they can make room for Blake Swihart in 2016.
Vazquez gunned down just shy of 40 percent of International League runners trying to steal. We haven’t seen that arm yet, but it should prove to be one of the stronger arms once it’s cranking.
And who knows? Maybe Vazquez’s arm is already known and recorded on scouting reports. Maybe he’ll be tested less because of that reputation.
“It’s going to be fun down the road, for sure. I like to pound the ball down and in and it’s gonna be fun down the road under different circumstances,” Lackey said.
“There’s more on my shoulders as far as calling the game. I’m going to have to do more of that on my my own as far as just pitching the ball and obviously we know how he can throw the ball. He had a great night with the bat. He’s an exciting player.”
Vazquez caught Lackey in spring training and then caught his bullpen a couple of days ago. But that’s been it.
“He guided me and called all the pitches and we won the game,” Vazquez said.
John Farrell said Vazquez has “caught two outstanding games” and recognized the energy. There will be educational moments along the way but that’s what catching every other day and learning the pitchers from now until the end of the year will bring.
Vazquez has a long way to go before he can close in on Pierzynski’s 1,742 games caught and .282 career average, but the early returns have been enlightening and leaving fans yearning to see a lot more.