FORT MYERS, Fla — Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez lost his job early last season. He limped through a .207 campaign at the plate, struggled defensively, then broke his finger in July and was a nonfactor when the Sox ran away with the AL East.
But by the end of the World Series, he was Boston’s everyday catcher. He saved the ball from Chris Sale’s final strike against the Dodgers and has it safely stored back home in Puerto Rico.
Now he’s hoping to catch 120 games for the Red Sox in 2019, which would be a quite an achievement. No Sox catcher has caught more than 100 games since Jarrod Saltalamacchia turned the trick in 2013. The days of Carlton Fisk catching 150 games in a season are over.
Vazquez looked like he would be the regular catcher in 2018 after hitting .290 in 2017. But he lost his mojo after signing a three-year, $13.3 million contract.
“I don’t know if he got lazy or what,’’ submitted manager Alex Cora.
“It’s a good question,’’ Vazquez said Wednesday morning. “I don’t know what happened. I need to be more consistent, that’s all.’’
In the early months of 2018, Vazquez made you feel safe going to the concession stand when he came to the plate. His catching wasn’t as good, either. Pitchers seemed to lose confidence in his skill set. Cora was mystified.
“He talked to me during the season a lot,’’ recalled Vazquez. “It was a tough year with a lot of up and downs. After the finger, I was more consistent with the bat.’’
Everything changed for him in October. He got his groove back at home plate, hitting .333 with a homer and two RBIs against the Yankees in the Division Series. When it came time for the ALCS and the World Series, there were no more conversations about Sandy Leon or Blake Swihart. The Sox went 9-1 in Vazquez’s 10 postseason starts.
“I worked on my swing in the offseason,’’ he said. “The game is changing a lot and I’m trying to hit the ball more in the air. More angle. More launch. And it’s working.
“I feel good with my swing. I know my defense is there, but I need to be more consistent with my hitting. Before, I was swinging with no clue, and I know it is going to be different this year.
“I have more pride in my calling games now and getting better with looking at the reports of other teams and preparing with the pitchers.
“My goal is to play more, 120 games. I need to play like it’s the World Series every day.’’
If you just turned on your radio, it has happened again. Twins 9, Red Sox 5. The Sox have lost seven consecutive spring training games . . . J.D. Martinez was a late scratch with back tightness. The Sox were going to send him to Tampa to play outfield for Friday’s game with the Yankees, but that won’t happen now. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,’’ said Cora . . . Former Boston College Eagle Pat Dean came on in relief for the Twins in the fourth.
Hop on the bus
The Red Sox embark on a two-game road trip to Lakeland (Tigers) and Tampa (Yankees) early Thursday morning. Leon will catch against the Tigers and Swihart will catch against the Yankees. “Regular” players who drew the short straw for the bus trip and overnight stay are Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Steve Pearce, Sam Travis, and Bryce Brentz are among others doing the overnight trip . . . Dustin Pedroia will not make the trip. Wednesday was an off day for Pedroia, but he said his knee feels fine and he expects to play in a minor league game (four innings, two at-bats) in Fort Myers Thursday. Pedroia hopes to play six or seven innings Saturday at JetBlue against the Braves.
Dipping his toe in
Ryan Brasier (infected pinkie toe) has yet to pitch in a spring game, but he threw live batting practice Wednesday and is expected to get into a game Sunday . . . Rick Porcello will stay back in Fort Myers and pitch in a minor league game while the Sox are in Tampa Friday. Vazquez will catch Porcello. Hector Velazquez will start for the Sox against the Yanks . . . The Sox have sold out 131 consecutive Grapefruit League home games . . . It was 83 degrees at game time (sorry) . . . Face in the crowd: KISS 108’s Billy Costa . . . There was a minor stir in the ballpark when rumors flew that Bob Cousy was in the house. False alarm. Some wiseguy baseball writer signed in as The Cooz in the media dining room.