|Ryan Lavarnway excited to return to majors, lose ‘smartest guy in the room’ label||08.01.12 at 6:22 pm ET|
When Ryan Lavarnway heard of the Red Sox’ acquisition of fellow Yale alum Craig Breslow, he immediately reached out to the left-hander to express his enthusiasm. Though the two were never teammates at Yale (Breslow was drafted in 2002, three years before Lavarnway started at the school), they have gotten to know each other through the years.
Within hours of the Sox’ trade for Breslow, however, Lavarnway learned that he and Breslow would not merely be in the same organization but instead on the same team. Shortly after Triple-A Pawtucket’s rain-soaked game in Rochester, Lavarnway was told that he was heading to Boston, likely for a call-up, in the aftermath of an injury that catcher Kelly Shoppach incurred when slamming a foul ball off his left shin.
“We finished our rain-delayed game last night around midnight. They said I was going to come, sit in the hotel and wait,” Lavarnway said.
Today, he made his way back into the Red Sox clubhouse where he spent two stretches last year during call-ups in August and then September. It represented an opportunity for which Lavarnway had been hoping even as he’d tried to keep it out of the foreground of his thoughts.
“If you focus on the day-to-day routine, then it’s easy [not to think about a call-up]. If you get away from that, it’s a little tougher. … You try to focus as best as you can,” he said. “It’s great to be back. It doesn’t matter what the situation.”
For now, the situation is not entirely clear. With Shoppach’s availability limited, the 24-year-old will be available as a backup catcher and a right-handed bat off the bench on Wednesday night against the Tigers. Beyond that, it remains to be seen for how long he will remain in the majors, and in what capacity, though with David Ortiz still working his way back from tendinitis in his Achilles, the addition of Lavarnway to the roster gives the Sox not only a bench option but also more options for mixing and matching with an offensive threat at DH between Lavarnway, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Shoppach. Lavarnway was told by manager Bobby Valentine that they will discuss a plan for the call-up tomorrow.
“I don’t know anything more than you do at this point,” Lavarnway said of his role.
Regardless, Lavarnway has done just about everything to position himself as a big league option both offensively and defensively. He’s hitting .295 with a .376 OBP, .439 slugging mark and .815 OPS along with eight homers in 83 games. Those numbers are down from the spectacular offensive display he had a year ago in Pawtucket, when he hit .295/.390/.612/1.002 with 18 homers in 61 days, but the circumstances have been drastically different.
Last year, Lavarnway was splitting time between catcher and DH, putting himself in position to be major league-ready as a hitter. This year, he’s already caught 80 games — 14 more than his prior career high for a full season, set in 2009 in Single-A Greenville — and it’s been a different undertaking as the Sox have tried to conclude Lavarnway’s defensive apprenticeship at the game’s most demanding position.
“This has been my first opportunity to catch on an everyday basis. I’ve got to tell you — it’s a lot different than DH-ing half the time. It’s more of a physical grind,” said Lavarnway. “But I’ve got a great postgame routine. I’m staying in shape a lot better this year, working on my flexibility and my body feels great.
“This is the best my body has felt this deep into the year regardless of how many games I’ve caught. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in in August,” he added. “There’s been the greater degree [of physical stress from catching], but I’ve focused a lot heavier on my diet than I have in past years. I haven’t put on the weight I have in past years. I’ve focused a lot more on flexibility with the long haul in mind.”
In the short-term, however, he has put himself to be back up in the majors and to be both an offensive and defensive option for the Red Sox. And he has put himself in position to enjoy a unique pairing with Breslow, as the two will become the first major league teammates ever from Yale.
And that, in turn, will position Lavarnway for a novel experience.
“I’ve never claimed to be the smartest guy in any room,” Lavarnway mused, “but it might be the first time that people don’t give me credit for it.”
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