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Francona: Sox are trying to play Jason Varitek as Saltalamacchia tries ‘to earn those stripes’

04.19.11 at 3:15 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona, in his weekly interview on The Big Show, acknowledged that he has been trying to increase Jason Varitek’s playing time in recent games because of his strengths in working with a pitching staff. Francona said that he talked with starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia about the idea that it would take time for members of the pitching staff to become as comfortable with him as they are with the longtime Sox catcher.

“I don’€™t think that is a knock on Salty. I told Salty last week, ‘€˜Right now, you’€™re trying to earn those stripes,’€™” said Francona. “I think sometimes a catcher can put down the same signs, but depending on who it is, the pitcher throws with a little more commitment. I think Tek has earned that. It’€™s always going to be hard for the next guy to come in to compare themselves, the way the game’€™s being run, with Tek. That’€™s been Tek’€™s strength for so long. He certainly didn’€™t get dumber. … You’€™re talking about one of the very best who’€™s probably ever played this game. They don’€™t come along very often.”

Francona noted that Varitek’s workload needs to be managed at this stage of his career, but noted that he has been increasing his recent usage of him. Saltalamacchia started eight of the Sox’ first nine games, but Varitek has been in the lineup for four of the last seven games. Entering Tuesday, Sox pitchers had a 2.40 ERA throwing to Varitek, and a 7.29 ERA with Saltalamacchia.

Asked to what degree he was trying to balance Varitek’s age with the desire to have him work with pitchers, Francona responded, “I’€™d be lying about that if I didn’€™t say I was thinking about it right now. We’€™ve obviously tried to get him in there a little bit more just because of some of the strengths you guys were talking about. I’€™ve got to be a little bit careful about running him out there too much. He has gotten a lot of wear and tear. We don’€™t want to reach for too much and get him hurt. Then we’€™re really in a bind. We’€™ve tried to not have him go back to back days so we can keep him fresh and do the things he can do.”

Saltalamacchia will be behind the place for John Lackey’s start on Tuesday in Oakland.

Francona also addressed several other topics. Among them:

–Francona said that he talked to Marco Scutaro about the decision to have Jed Lowrie remain in the lineup amidst his torrid stretch. Last week, he called the shortstop after a game to make sure that the lines of communication were open.

“I told him, ‘€˜Hey, man — look. … I think you’€™re a pro, but we can’€™t keep this kid out of the lineup. I wouldn’t be doing my job,'” recounted Francona. “And I said, ‘If you want to come and talk to me, I owe you that, but I have to play this kid.’€™”

Scutaro told WEEI.com on Monday that he had no qualms with the decision.

–Francona expected that Scutaro would sit on Tuesday, but that he would be back in the lineup for Wednesday’s day game, when the Sox will be facing left-hander Gio Gonzalez of the A’s. Francona expects that DH David Ortiz might sit on Wednesday, in which case an infielder (perhaps Kevin Youkilis) could serve as designated hitter, with Lowrie playing that position and Scutaro playing shortstop.

–The manager emphasized that he is prioritizing on-base percentage from his leadoff spot over speed right now. He is hopeful that Carl Crawford’s last three at bats from Monday will carry over, but at this point, he feels that it is better for him to hit lower in the lineup until he leaves behind his struggles.

–Francona said that part of the reason why the team elected to have Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch against the Blue Jays (thus skipping John Lackey) after the rainout was Matsuzaka’s history of success against Toronto. “If you look at Daisuke’€™s numbers against Toronto, you’€™re almost to the point where you can’€™t ignore them,” said Francona.

–Francona described Lackey as having been “mad” about being skipped, given that he is accustomed to other members of the rotation being skipped to accommodate him. “I hope he comes out and tries to show everyone that we made a mistake,” said Francona, who suggested that part of the struggle for the right-hander since his arrival in Boston has been that “the ball through the [strike] zone has been flat. Sometimes it happens.”

To listen to the complete interview, visit The Big Show Audio on Demand page. For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro
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