|Red Sox postgame notes: Saltalamacchia swings into action||03.21.12 at 5:15 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It had been a slow start to the spring for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who not only was just 1-for-13 in Grapefruit League action, but also missed time due to bursitis in his hip.
On Wednesday, in a 6-5 loss by the Red Sox, the 26-year-old had a game that represented a satisfying change of fortunes. Batting left-handed in all three of his at-bats against Pirates starter Kevin Correia, he went 2-for-3 with a double to left-center and a massive home run to right field.
“Me and [hitting coach Dave Magadan] have been working on some things, trying to stay on the ball more, and I was able to do it today at the plate,” said Saltalamacchia. “This spring I’ve really been getting underneath the ball and popping it up too much, just kind of bat head dragging a little bit. So we’ve really worked on getting the head outand staying on top. If I roll over or ground out, that’s OK, at least it’s not a pop-up. But what I’m still trying to do when I get two strikes, is trying to fight my way to get the ball in the field instead of striking out.”
That being the case, Saltalamacchia was particularly pleased with his second-inning double, in which he lined a two-strike fastball off the fence in left-center, a potentially important sign for a player who struck out in 119 of his 358 at-bats last year.
A year ago, the average AL hitter hit .185 with a .252 OBP and .283 slugging mark in two-strike counts. Saltalamacchia hit .157/.208/.347/.555, marks upon which he is hoping to improve.
Saltalamacchia also showed that the bursitis is not impairing his mobility on a diving play in the second inning on which he fielded a safety squeeze, found the runner and lunged through the air to make the glove tag.
– McKechnie Field is one of the most difficult pitching environments in the Grapefruit League, so it’s typically a mistake to spend too much time thinking about pitching lines from a park whose whipping winds give every fly ball a chance to travel out of the park. Even so, Jon Lester admitted that he was disappointed by his yield of four runs (all in his third and final inning) on eight hits while walking two and striking out one.
“I’m a competitor. I want to win. I don’t care if it’s on the back field in Minnesota or in Fenway or wherever. I always want to do well and get the results that I feel I’ve been working for,” said Lester. “This is not something I take lightly, even if it’s in spring training.”
That said, Lester also said he felt good about his mechanics. While he did end up leaving some fastballs up, he felt that his ability to repeat his delivery was solid, thus allowing him to have a good curveball and changeup.
“I felt probably the best I’ve felt mechanically and able to repeat in a long time,” said Lester. “That’s the positive from today. I was able to really repeat some things we’ve been working on — riding the ball just a little bit, just up a little bit. …
“I’m going to come back tomorrow, and I don’t think there’s anything we need to address. Like I said, I felt really sound and in good positions when I threw the ball today. I’m just that little bit under it on my fastball. Instead of being at the knees, I was at the thigh. When you face big-league hitters, that’s what happens.”
– Lester’s difficulty holding runners at first base will be tested early and often. He continues to be limited to lobbing the ball to first, and the Pirates stole a pair of bases on him in the first inning (though Pirates shortstop Josh Harrison overslid the bag, allowing second baseman Pedro Ciriaco to tag out the runner).
That said, Lester has proven capable of controlling the running game despite the lack of a good move to first. Opponents were just 14 for 26 (53.8 percent) on stolen base attempts against him thanks to the variance of hold times and his delivery time to the plate.
Perhaps even more notably, Lester’s efforts to control the running game did not come at the expense of his performance against hitters. With the bases empty, opponents hit .242 with a .319 OBP, .412 slugging mark and .731 OPS against Lester. With a runner on first, opponents hit .227/.311/.258/.568 against him.
– Left-hander Franklin Morales made his first appearance of the spring, pitching a scoreless inning with one walk and a strikeout.
“I threw my pitches. I threw my sinker and splitter and curve. I feel very good,” said Morales.
– Junichi Tazawa turned in his best outing of the spring, tossing three shutout innings while allowing one hit and striking out two.
“Tazawa pitched better today. His breaking ball was much better. He had some fastballs that were up that will get centered, but the ones that were down were OK,” said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “He hit his spots that got the needed three innings.”
From behind the plate, Saltalamacchia was even more impressed with Tazawa, suggesting that he looked like he had more power to his pitches than was the case last year.
“Catching him last year, he had good four-seam, he threw it where he wanted it, but today it looked like he had a little more life, a little more pop on it,” said Saltalamacchia. “The one pitch I’m happy with was his split, it’s a lot better than I remember it being last year. I knew his curveball was good, I knew he had a good fastball, but to be able to throw it in the dirt when he wanted to and throw it for a swing, I’m impressed with that.”
Tazawa could emerge as a bullpen option for the Sox this year, perhaps even out of the gate, depending on how pitchers such as Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla and Morales progress in their returns from injury.
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