Is Christian Vazquez ready to become catcher Red Sox truly need?

Rob Bradford
April 22, 2019 - 8:13 am

When Blake Swihart was designated for assignment we were distracted from what really mattered.

The first focus immediately shifted on Swihart, the former first-round pick who many believed simply wasn't given the kind of chance he deserved. 

Then there was the conversation regarding Sandy Leon, whose presence was going to help alter the Red Sox' pitchers' fortunes in a manner that Swihart couldn't.

Both shouldn't have been prioritized. This is really all about Christian Vazquez.

"I want to be considered one of the great ones."

That's what Vazquez told in spring training. It was an exhibition season where the 28-year-old was clearly locked into accomplishing that goal, seeing the opportunity to grab the starting catching reins. Sure, he only hit .208 (although with 4 homers) in Grapefruit League action, but the intensity and focus were noticeable.

And from the Red Sox' perspective, the hope was that the lessons learned throughout 2018 were going to take root in 2019. It was an education that started in the first series of last season and continued through October when Vazquez was the chosen one to guide most of the postseason pitchers.

"I do feel that series in Tampa right away put him in a bad spot," Cora said in spring training, remembering the Sox' season-opening series at Tropicana Field in 2018. "He hit like three or four balls that previous years, they were base hits. But teams made adjustments and they were actually shifting him away. He had three or four line drives that series right away, then he started chasing hits. Behind the plate, I think he did a good job. The whole thing about Sandy catching Chris (Sale), whatever, I didn’t see a difference with Christian. He was doing a good job. The guy on the mound he’s pretty good too. You put a number, he throws a pitch with conviction regardless. I do feel offensively he was chasing hits at one point. We saw the 0-for-whatever. He wanted to prove probably to everybody that he can hit. That’s the part it’s, no, don’t chase hits. I think September, October when he realized, he put great at-bats. Forget the homer, there were two at-bats, the (Justin) Verlander one, 12 pitches and he made an out I think. That was a great at-bat, set the tempo for that game, yeah, we’re here. Then against (Clayton) Kershaw the last game, he put great swings on him the whole day. He faced quality pitching and he put good at-bats and that’s what we’re looking for."

Flash forward to life after Swihart and Vazquez seemingly is embracing this new opportunity.

He started three of the five games on the recent road trip, coming through with home runs in two of them while supplying one of the most pivotal plays of the weekend in the game he didn't start. That, of course, was when Vazquez teamed with first baseman Steve Pearce to end Saturday night's game with a pickoff of Tommy Pham. He also threw out the only runner trying to steal on him against a Tampa Bay team that came into the series totaling the third-most stolen bases in baseball.

Vazquez punctuated the post-Swihart run with Sunday afternoon's game-winner, a sacrifice fly managed against Tampa Bay closer Jose Alvarado's 98 mph sinker. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' win Sunday over the Rays, click here.)

Leon will play. But make no mistake about it, this is Vazquez'  big chance. That run in October was nice, but this one actually might mean a bit more when it comes to the catcher's career.

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