By BRENDAN McGAIR
PAWTUCKET – There’s a ripple effect to the Red Sox placing David Ross on the 60-day disabled list. Concussion issues continue to plague the backup catcher, his up-in-the-air status for the balance of the season paving the way for Ryan Lavarnway to stick with the major-league team for the foreseeable future.
Closer to home, Lavarnway’s change in his work address has paved the way for Dan Butler to take on a greater catching load with the Pawtucket Red Sox. Mind you Butler is familiar with stepping into Lavarnway’s shoes upon the latter getting called up to Boston and not looking back.
Go back to last August 1 when Lavarnway joined the parent club. Butler arrived in Pawtucket two days later and – with journeyman Mike Rivera as the only other catching option on the Triple-A roster – wasted little time in putting his mark on the job. Butler went on to appear in 22 regular-season games with Pawtucket and six of the team’s eight playoff games.
This time, Butler’s ascension to the top of the PawSox’ catching order has a different vibe. Butler was added to Boston’s 40-man roster last offseason, meaning that he and Lavarnway were on somewhat equal footing when the 2013 season got underway. During media day at McCoy Stadium, manager Gary DiSarcina mapped out a strategy session that would prove beneficial for his two specially designated backstops.
“You’ve got to think long-term and keep them fresh,” said DiSarcina in early April.
“I knew the situation. Both of us were going to have to play,” said Butler when asked about no longer living in Lavarnway’s shadow. “I knew that Ryan was going to play a little bit more than I was, but it was a situation where you just keep grinding in your role.”
Of course, that was before Ross began suffering from concussion issues that in turn helped thrust Lavarnway into a more prominent position. He became the priority – Lavarnway’s latest summons to Boston marked his third of the campaign.
At the same time, Butler began taking more and more of a back seat. Nights like May 30, when Pawtucket was visiting Indianapolis, help in supporting said belief. Butler was in the lineup in a DH capacity while Lavarnway was behind the plate.
Butler did appear in four straight games from June 3-6, a busy stretch that gave way to a period of inactivity – his next appearance would not materialize until June 14. To his credit, Butler understood that Lavarnway’s status as priority No. 1 and how it affected his duties with Pawtucket.
“Ryan was the starter when he was here and I had to find a way to be better at my role when I had the chance to play,” said Butler.
The sporadic playing time marked new territory for Butler, someone who in his three previous pro seasons had not appeared in less than 95 games. That same May 30 evening saw him raise his batting average to .219 following a 3-for-4 showing. On June 6, he was down to .196.
“It was definitely different, so I started to press and put a little more pressure on myself rather than just accept what it is and know that no matter what you do, you may not play for the next couple of days,” Butler acknowledged. “Ryan was playing every day and he was playing well.”
So too has Butler upon seeing his duties with the PawSox expand. Wednesday’s nod against Toledo marked his sixth start in the nine games DiSarcina & Co. have played following Lavarnway’s latest departure. The first five games of the sequence have seen him find himself in the batter’s box, going 6-for-17 (.353) to help raise his season batting average to .232.
Delving further, he’s hit two home runs and driven in six, three coming on a bases-clearing double in Monday’s 5-4 win at Toledo.
“It’s a good feeling anytime you see your name in the lineup,” smiled Butler. “I came in every day prepared to play. Whether I played or not, you adjust your schedule, but I’m still going to do the same thing moving forward.”
Added DiSarcina, “(Backup catcher Alberto) Rosario has caught well for us, but for me, you’ve got to respect the 40-man process. Dan is going to get the bulk of the time. I enjoy watching him catch and his offense is coming around a little bit now that he’s playing more.”
Butler continued to see his average climb following a 2-for-4 showing in Wednesday’s 5-4 come-from-behind win over Toledo. Pawtucket trailed 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh before striking for five runs.
A RBI single by Jackie Bradley Jr. got the home team on the scoreboard with Mitch Maier later following with a two-run double to tie the game at 4. Following a pitching change, Will Middlebrooks came through with a single on a 2-0 pitch to chase home Maier with what proved to be the game-winning run.
The base hit capped off a 1-for-4 showing for Middlebrooks. His first three at-bats all ended with infield groundouts, two of which went to shortstop.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03