PAWTUCKET — Sunday marked the first time Bob Montgomery saw Ryan Lavarnway up close and in person. Studying the Pawtucket Red Sox catcher from the television booth in the press box located high above McCoy Stadium, Montgomery made good use of the monitor adjacent to him, particularly when tracking Lavarnway’s mitt motion as he received the ball from the pitcher.
According to Montgomery, someone who spent all 10 of his major-league seasons with the Red Sox (1970-79), the way Lavarnway frames pitches makes it that much harder for the home plate umpire to make an accurate call. Using his hand to demonstrate Lavarnway’s receivership, Montgomery made clear that it falls on the catcher to give the umpire the best and most optimum view.
“Some guys will tell you that if the umpire sees the palm of the glove, the ball is too low. That’s something I never bought into,” said the 68-year-old Montgomery. “If he sees more of the glove, he’s seeing less of the ball.”
Montgomery added that Lavarnway isn’t the first backstop to go palm out with the glove when corralling breaking pitches in the dirt. In fact, one may argue that the slight flaw in Lavarnway’s repertoire places him in exclusive company.
“Carlton Fisk never caught the ball (palm in),” said Montgomery, who served as the Hall of Famer’s primary backup while the pair were teammates in Boston.
Montgomery understands that there are some growing pains to be expected when referencing someone in Lavarnway’s position. The first half of the 2012 season saw the 24-year-old become entrusted as Pawtucket’s primary catcher after years of splitting reps with a fellow prospect.
“Those things, he’ll learn with time,” said Montgomery. “He’s never caught on a regular basis.”
Typically, most managers adhere to the practice of giving the catcher the day off whenever a day game follows a night game. Granted, a large part of the reason why Lavarnway strapped on the gear Sunday afternoon after logging nine innings the previous night had to due with the presence of Clay Buchholz, yet it shows just how much faith the BoSox have in the prospect.
“If you’re the guy everyone is talking about, you have to play every day. That was probably the only thing he didn’t have checked off on his résumé,” stated Red Sox minor-league catching coordinator Chad Epperson last month. “Now that he’s been able to get that chance and show that he can do it, I think he’s padded the résumé.”
Not looking too far ahead, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler giving Lavarnway – tied for second in the International League in on-base percentage (.401) and third in batting average (.310) – Thursday off after playing the previous night in the Triple-A All-Star game in Buffalo. This Thursday also marks another PawSox game shown on NESN with Montgomery once again providing the commentary.
Sticking with catching, Montgomery was asked to weigh in about Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s job performance during the first half.
“I think (the Red Sox) have always thought of him as a pretty good hitting catcher, and he’s certainly proven that,” said Montgomery, making reference to the career-best 17 home runs Saltalamacchia carried into the break. “They don’t make a lot of offensive catchers.”
Montgomery then pointed to the 10 base runners Saltalamacchia has thrown out in 49 chances. For comparison’s sake, backup Kelly Shoppach has gunned down seven would-be base stealers in 16 opportunities.
“(Saltalamacchia) works with a staff that doesn’t do a good job of holding runners on,” said Montgomery. “Pitchers have to help the catcher a little bit in being able to throw some guys out.”
As Junichi Tazawa mowed down the Syracuse Chiefs in the ninth inning Sunday, some unexpected numbers graced the pitch speed gun at McCoy. The Japanese righty touched 95 miles per hour on several occasions, a far cry from where he was pre-Tommy John surgery – which Tazawa underwent in April 2010 – and even at the beginning of the season when he was throwing in 91-92 range.
“It’s tough to find 94-95 (mph), but he’s doing so with consistent command,” notes PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur.
The increase in velocity is also reflective in the 53 strikeouts Tazawa has recorded in 41 1/3 innings. His 24 appearances are third-most among PawSox relievers and is one of eight Pawtucket pitchers to record at least one save.
Close your eyes and imagine the following lineup for the PawSox: Will Middlebrooks at third base, Jose Iglesias at shortstop, Pedro Ciriaco at second base, Lars Anderson at first base with Nate Spears as the backup. Behind the plate would be Lavarnway with Daniel Nava in left field, Ryan Kalish in center and a platoon of Alex Hassan/Jason Repko in right. Oh, don’t forget Mauro Gomez at DH.
As one PawSox employee noted recently, “Can you imagine if we had all these guys together? The fans certainly think about it!”
If there’s a consolation prize in what has become a season of poaching by the big-league club, it’s that the PawSox stand to benefit from a stream of rehabbers. The star power will be out beginning Thursday when Carl Crawford makes an appearance with Dustin Pedroia and Andrew Bailey to follow thereafter.