NEW YORK — President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski described the Red Sox as a “split camp” when they were debating which catcher to keep on the roster at the end of spring training.
“We debated it long and hard,” he said.
Dombrowski broke the tie and the Sox started the season with Blake Swihart. Sandy Leon was designated for assignment, then sent to the minor leagues.
That transaction was reversed Tuesday, the struggling Sox returning Leon to the roster and designating Swihart after only 17 games.
Leon started against the Yankees on Tuesday night, catching Chris Sale in an 8-0 loss. Leon was 0 for 3, striking out twice.
The decision to bring back Leon was made late Monday afternoon after a 9-1 loss against the Baltimore Orioles. When the team’s flight to New York was delayed, Dombrowski met with manager Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and others in baseball operations to discuss what could be done to ignite the underachieving Sox.
“At this point, really, there’s only one move you can make and it’s with Swihart if you can replace him,” Dombrowski said. “We wanted to bring Leon up to handle our pitching staff. He’s really good at it.”
The Sox knew that about Leon three weeks ago, but decided to keep Swihart hoping the 27-year-old former first-round pick would fulfill what has long been considered great promise.
His audition amounted to 26 at-bats and 54 innings behind the plate. Now the Sox have seven days to either trade Swihart or pass him through waivers.
There is seemingly little chance Swihart will clear waivers, so a trade is likely even if the Sox find the return underwhelming. Dombrowski said the Sox have been trying to trade Swihart for more than a year with no success.
The team’s 6-11 start forced action. The Sox expect to split the catching duties among Leon and Christian Vazquez much as they did last season.
“By no means [am] I saying we’re putting this on Blake,” Dombrowski said. “It’s just our guys haven’t pitched very well. There’s a combination of factors. We just felt at this time we better bring up more of a veteran-type catcher to handle a veteran starting pitching staff.”
Swihart got the news from Cora and Dombrowski on Monday. Leon arrived Tuesday.
“I told Sandy, ‘Don’t feel like you have to come here and be the savior,’ ” Cora said. “It doesn’t work that way. But there’s a comfort level. We know what he’d done the last few years. Nothing against Blake, it’s one of those baseball decisions.”
The Red Sox have gone this route before. They sent Swihart to the minors after he caught only six games in 2016, replacing him with Vazquez when the team started 3-4.
His last game as a catcher that season also was against Baltimore at home and the Sox allowed nine runs in a loss.
The Sox then tried to make Swihart a left fielder, an experiment that ended with a severe ankle injury after only 13 games. He has started only 22 games as a catcher since.
“We like him a lot,” Dombrowski said. “But it’s just right now we think Sandy Leon’s a better fit for us.”
Through Monday, Red Sox starters were 2-10 with a 7.18 ERA, the worst in baseball by nearly half a run. Swihart started six of those games behind the plate; the Sox were 3-3 and allowed 38 runs.
Leon played seven games for Triple A Pawtucket and was 3 for 25 at the plate.
“I wasn’t expecting the call. Just playing my game and being ready. Now I’m here,” Leon said. “Happy just be here but not happy because one of our guys is gone and he was a friend, too. But there’s nothing I can do to change that.”
The starting pitchers, particularly Sale and Rick Porcello, have great faith in Leon.
“Game management is very important with [Leon]. He’s able to slow things down,” Cora said. “The communication factor with Sandy is a good one. Not only with the coaching staff, but with the pitchers.”
Holt on the mend
Brock Holt, who is on the injured list with a scratched right cornea, started a rehabilitation assignment with Pawtucket. He was 0 for 2 with a walk against Buffalo . . . Andrew Benintendi (bruised right foot) missed his second game but should return Wednesday . . . Mookie Betts jarred his left wrist trying to rob a home run from Clint Frazier in the fourth inning but stayed in the game and said later he was fine . . . The Yankees added first baseman Greg Bird to their lengthy injured list and called up first baseman Mike Ford from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Bird has a left plantar fascia tear. The Yankees have 12 players on the injured list, including Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, and Gary Sanchez. The Yankees moved Jacoby Ellsbury to the 60-day injured list to make room for Ford on the 40-man roster. Ellsbury has not played a major league game since 2017.
Ramirez to bullpen
The Sox called up righthander Erasmo Ramirez from Pawtucket. The 28-year-old allowed four runs over three innings of relief and could make a quick return back to the minors after throwing 41 pitches. Ramirez filled the roster spot of Marcus Walden, who was optioned to Pawtucket on Monday . . . Congratulations to Red Sox media relations staffers Daveson Perez and Justin Long, who completed the Boston Marathon. Perez ran to raise funds for the Red Sox Foundation and Long for Boston Children’s Hospital . . . Foley’s NY Pub and Restaurant on West 33rd Street in Manhattan is offering the “Nick Cafardo Burger” this week, with proceeds going to an ALS charity in memory of the late Globe baseball writer. The burger is stuffed with mozzarella cheese and Italian sausage.