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Jarrod Saltalamacchia returns to lineup uncertainty: ‘It’s frustrating not knowing’ about role

08.05.12 at 7:44 am ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia has started just six of the last 17 games behind the plate. (AP)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was back in the Red Sox clubhouse and in the lineup on Saturday, but slightly bemused by the characterization of his absence from the park during Friday’s game. Contrary to the suggestion of manager Bobby Valentine, the catcher had been forced out of action not by an ear infection but instead by a violent stomach bug. He was felled by food poisoning in the middle of Thursday’s game, and was sent home prior to Friday’s game when the symptoms persisted.

“I don’t know where that got out,” Saltalamacchia said of the suggestion of an ear infection. “It was food poisoning. … It just hit me like a ton of bricks — fever, everything — so they sent me home.”

The idea that he had an ear infection was not the only source of recent confusion for Saltalamacchia. After spending most of the first half as the Sox’ everyday catcher, he has seen his playing time and role change considerably. He’s started just nine of the last 17 games for the Red Sox; he’s been the starting catcher in just six contests, with Kelly Shoppach now getting the majority of starts behind the plate.

Yet to this point, Saltalamacchia has been left to guess about the nature of his role redefinition. He said that no one has talked with him about what his new job description might be. He discussed the issue matter-of-factly and without rancor, but at the same time, acknowledged that the lack of clarity has been challenging.

“They may have their own discussions, but I haven’t heard anything,” said Saltalamacchia. “It is [frustrating] in a sense, just because I want to play. I think everyone in this clubhouse wants to play. It’s frustrating not knowing. Early in the season, when there was a lefty pitching, I knew I wasn’t going to be playing, and when there was a righty, I was. But the last few weeks it’s been kind of hit or miss with DH-ing. Still been playing against righties, but as a DH and catching. My preference would still be catching. But I don’t make the lineup. I don’t know if [manager Bobby Valentine] is trying to give us both [Shoppach and Saltalamacchi] a little rest to make a run at the end. I don’t know. I just play when I play.”

Of course, given that he was on pace to shatter career highs in games caught in the majors, and the fact that his production tailed off considerably starting in June, the catcher may have stood to benefit from additional rest. And indeed, he has been showing improvement at the plate of late, having hit .281/.361/.594/.955 with three homers and four walks in his last 10 games. Still, the 27-year-old suggests that he can gain from time off only to a point.

“I think there’s always a benefit to maybe a day, but I don’t see a benefit if you take three or four days off,” said Saltalamacchia. “If anything, it kind of hurts you, puts you in a handcuff, because you’re not catching those guys everyday. Those guys click, something goes well, you see that and then you have a feel of what to call, what to do. Obviously, the more you catch a team, the more you know them, the better you can call a game. Same thing with catching and receiving — the more you receive and block, the better you become. Hitting as well — the more at-bats you’re going to get, the better you get, the quicker you come out of slumps, the better you start swinging.”

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