As a player, Jason Varitek knew that embracing baseball’s movement toward analytics would only help him in the long run.
He was a heady catcher by nature, but he approached preparation with added attention, burying himself in the data no matter what else was going on.
“I saw him first-hand as a player on trips,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who played three-plus seasons alongside Varitek. “David [Ortiz] was playing cards and Jason was part of the card game, and while he was losing money playing cards, he had his scouting report at the same time.”
In his first year as a full-time member of the coaching staff, Cora said Varitek has brought the same attention to detail that he did as a player.
“He’s relentless at what he does,” Cora said before Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Oakland. “One of the best catchers I ever played with. And for him to be part of the day-in, day-out process that we have, it’s been a plus.”
The Sox created the title of game planning coordinator for Varitek this past offseason. Previously a special assistant to the general manager, Varitek’s focus has been on pitchers and catchers, but he’s added insight across the board.
“He can talk hitting, he can talk defense, he can talk pitching,” Cora said. “We’re here to help each other out. That’s what good coaching staffs do. Obviously, he’s on top of pitch sequences and communicating with Christian [Vázquez] and Kevin [Plawecki]. That’s very important. But I think as a person, as the captain, he’s doing the things that he used to do, but in a different way. More vocal, more outspoken, which is great.”
Varitek is also armed with information, using data to point players in the right direction. For instance, he sifted through the metrics on the advantages of the one-knee catching stance and convinced Vazquez and Plawecki it would be beneficial.
“Any information in anything in this game — whether it be from a pro scout or an analytics department — and you’re not open-minded enough to engage and learn or maybe learn something that you didn’t know or add pieces to things that you didn’t know, you’re not doing yourself a favors,” he said. “This is a game about the players and it’s about them performing, and whatever pieces we can allow them to perform at their height — it shouldn’t be analytic department, staff members, and players, it should be one cohesive, one big group. And I think that’s, that’s why this team’s had some success.”
Varitek acknowledged he eventually would like an opportunity to become a manager, but his role with the Sox is his primary focus.
“Of course,” Varitek said. “But that’s not the focus right now. The focus right now is what you can do to make this team the best that can. We have an unbelievable leader around us, so it’s a great working environment to work with.”
Mitch more than the averaging returning Red Sox
Mitch Moreland returned to Fenway for the first time since being traded last August, receiving a warm ovation when he came to bat in the second inning, and it brought back some fond memories for Cora.
“Mitch is a good player, man, and a great person,” Cora said. “What he brought to the equation in the clubhouse was kind of like, a sense of calmness. The way he operates, he takes care of himself. Sometimes it’s a grind physically, but he wants to post every day and I think that that helps the people around him.
“They see Mitch play and they’re like, ‘You know what, I better play too. Let me get ready for this one.’ He did an excellent job for us in both years, and he did an excellent job last year for the Red Sox.”
Moreland spent three seasons with he Sox, winning a World Series in 2018. After being traded to San Diego last summer, he signed with Oakland as a free agent. He went 1 for 4 as the designated hitter on Tuesday, raising his average to .220 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 28 games.
“He’s been fantastic here, and not just in the role that we’ve used him,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Obviously we’ve been able to play him a little bit at first base, too. He’s got a Gold Glove. He’s picking up the DH thing. He knows how to pinch-hit. He’s just a professional hitter who rubs off not just necessarily on our young guys.
“Whether it’s he or Jed [Lowrie], when they speak in the cage and they talk about certain things, guys are focused on it,” continued Melvin, referencing another former Red Sox. “It’s great to have another resource like him, who has won a world championship as well, and has some of the things that our guys want to have, too. He’s been great here. He’s fit in really well here, and the guys really respect him.”
Checking in on sick bay
Kiké Hernández and Christian Arroyo are expected to be able to return when eligible, Cora said. Hernández has been on the injured list since May 7 with a right hamstring strain. Arroyo has been listed since May 9 (retroactive to May 7) with a left hand contusion . . . In Worcester, Triple-A catcher Connor Wong pulled up lame at second base with what appeared to be a left hamstring injury, slightly souring an 8-5 win over Syracuse to christen Polar Park. WooSox manager Billy McMillon suggested Wong — the only catcher in the minors on Boston’s 40-man roster — would be sidelined for at least a couple of days. Wong will be re-evaluated, but McMillon said that at first glance, the injury wasn’t expected to sideline him for long.
Alex Speier of Globe Staff contributed to this report.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.