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Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Lavarnway offer reality checks for Thursday’s heroes

02.22.13 at 7:07 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Remember when Ryan Sweeney hit that home run against Northeastern last March 4? It was going to propel the outfielder to a power surge that had been invisible while hitting just 14 homers in six seasons. Even Bobby Valentine thought so.

“Watching him, I don’€™t think he knows himself as well as he should, especially as a hitter,’€™” the former Red Sox manager said at the time. “It seems like in the outfield he has a very good sense of who he is. I’€™m not sure he has a great sense of who he is at the plate.” He then added, “Bad mechanics. Doesn’€™t know himself as a hitter.”

That would be it, however. Sweeney never hit a ball over the fence the rest of the season. It wasn’t the start of something big, a notion that he never promised, anyway.

“It was a 3-1 count. It was against a college kid. I was just trying to hit a home run,” Sweeney admitted prior to Thursday’s game against Northeastern.

Ryan Lavarnway offered another example of the kind of spring training mirage these games can present.

After dropping 28 pounds in the offseason, the catcher was somewhat worried the weight loss would cut into the power he had exhibited when hitting 32 minor-league home runs in 2011. But with one swing, his fears were tempered, hitting a home run in his first spring training at-bat during a ‘B’ Game against the Twins at Hammond Stadium.

The reality, however, was that his weight loss did effect the power output, an issue Lavarnway would later admit to.

“Last year it was kind of a relief after I had lost the weight to know I could still get it out. This year I feel strong, so if I get it out I expect it at some point,” he said. “It’€™s more of having the right approach on a consistent basis rather than a lightning strike.”

Both players have learned their lessons.

Sweeney (who went 0-for-1 Thursday) feels he might have found something for the long haul, but not because of any one moment. The outfielder spent two weeks in Los Angeles working with Rod Carew, who appeared to identify an issue with the lefty hitter’s approach.

“I basically changed my swing,” Sweeney said. “I changed my lower half and how I’€™m getting to balls. I just feel like I’€™m ready to hit every pitch and I’€™m taking good swings and I have a good bat path to the baseball. I just feel like I can put better swings on the ball.

“Talking to Ben [Cherington], he said, ‘€˜We don’€™t need you to hit 20 homers.’€™ As long as you can go in and give a good at-bat. I just feel like what [Carew] taught me will put me in a better position to drive the ball more.”

Lavarnway also altered his approach, not prioritizing his home run stroke as much as he did in ’12 while attempting to regain his usual plate discipline. He is more intent on letting the eight pounds of muscle added in the offseason do the work instead of an unnatural swing.

So, for players like Jarrod Saltamacchia (two-run double, 2 walks), Mauro Gomez (3 hits), and Dan Butler and Shannon Wilkerson, who each homered against Boston College, Thursday was nice, but most likely meant little. Just ask Sweeney and Lavarnway.

“There’€™s no immediate satisfaction in doing something in Game 1, especially this year in extended spring training,” Lavarnway said. “You have to peak at the right time.”

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