Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez is playing with confidence that’s been building over the past three years and has turned him into one of the top players in the league at his position in the eyes of manager Alex Cora.
Vázquez’s two-run homer in the fourth inning of the Sox’ 9-2 win over the Rays on Wednesday afternoon was the shot that broke open the onslaught, and it’s becoming the norm.
It was Vázquez’s second home run of the season, including his tying shot Tuesday night in the ninth inning of the 12-inning comeback win. He’s hit 42 homers in his seven-year career, and 22 have tied the game or put the Sox ahead.
When Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough left a 2-and-1 cutter up and over the middle of the plate, Vázquez’s eyes lit up.
“I feel sexy at the plate,” Vázquez said. “It feels good to be helping the team win. It feels good to fight the Rays. We’re playing better, playing aggressive, we’re pitching better. It feels good to win.”
After catching all 12 innings Tuesday, Vázquez was prepared to be back in the lineup as the designated hitter on Wednesday with a lefthander on the mound. He went 2 for 4 with two runs and three RBIs.
“Can’t miss that lefty,” said Vázquez, who has 18 career homers against lefthanders.
From the push he gave the Sox on their way to the World Series title in 2018 to his breakthrough in the pandemic-shortened season a year ago, Cora said Vázquez has taken leaps as a player and a leader in the clubhouse.
“I do believe with him, what he did in ’18 in the playoffs put him at another level,” Cora said. “We needed him to step up defensively in the playoffs because we needed his bat.
“I still remember everybody was worried about him catching Rick [Porcello] against the Yankees, right, because Sandy [Leon] was the catcher, but he did a good job with Rick and he got a big hit against [Luis] Severino, he had the big home run against [Zack] Britton, and it just took off ... I think that gave him confidence. He knows he’s one of the leaders of the team. He’s been here a long time and he wants to lead this staff to do something big.”
Pegged as a defensive catcher when he reached the majors in 2014, Vázquez has become an impact at the plate and behind it over the past two seasons. Since the start of 2019, Vázquez is third among catchers with at least 500 plate appearances in Wins Above Replacement (5.2), behind only J.T. Realmuto (7.6) and Yasmani Grandal (7.2).
“When I see how people rank catchers, right — outside of our world — he’s the closest thing to a complete package, right?” Cora said. “He’s swinging the bat the last two years, defensively we know what he can do, but nobody gives him recognition. It’s not that he needs it, but I do believe he’s one of the top catchers in the league.
“I’m very proud of him because he puts in work in the offseason. Talk about his weight, he’s a lot lighter now. He worked on his swing the last three years. He just wants to be one of the best and it’s not about recognition, it’s about putting in work. I’m very happy that he’s off to a great start.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.