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Red Sox notes: They don't have a No. 1 catcher; Chris Sale throws off mound

Rob Bradford
September 01, 2018 - 9:23 pm

Related: Alex Cora throws down gauntlet for Rafael Devers

CHICAGO -- Alex Cora admitted that heading into September the Red Sox might not have a No. 1 catcher. But that actually might not be a bad thing.

With Christian Vazquez returning from his pinky injury the Sox now have three catchers on the active roster, a situation that led to some challenging playing time scenarios earlier the year.

But, as Cora explained it, this is no longer about managing innings behind the plate. It's about getting the best production at the position. And that's where Blake Swihart has made things interesting.

"Day by day, day by day. That's how we're going to play it," said Cora when asked about the catching rotation, which also involves Sandy Leon.

"Most likely Blake will catch (Sunday) tomorrow and be behind the plate in Atlanta, we'll see how it goes, we're going to go day by day. Blake defensively has done an outstanding job, I know he doesn't catch everybody, and at this stage, we know how comfortable we are with Sandy with certain guys, but at the same time, he's been catching late in the game with the game on the line so it doesn't make any difference. It's just a matter of how we feel on a daily basis and we go from there. He's going to be in the mix. I know it's hard to catch three guys in a week. I've been saying that but I'll figure it out."

Swihart has been a revelation for Cora, and not only because of his improved ability at catcher.

Since July 1, Swihart is hitting .304 with a .786 OPS. This season he has caught in 22 games, played the outfield 13 times, manned third base on nine occasions, found himself at third base twice and served as a second baseman in one game.

The resurgence has been a welcome development considering Vazquez's injury and Leon's offensive downturn. (Leon is just 3-for-38 since Aug. 9.)

"One thing for sure, the work that (catching instructor Chad Epperson) Eppy and Jason (Varitek) did when he wasn’t playing was great. They found a few things," Cora said. "It wasn’t an easy spot because he had to take ground balls at first and third and play the outfield. But as far as calling the game, he’s more capable now. He’s actually using the resources. Blocking the ball, where I think it was a struggle for him — I wasn’t here for that — it was a struggle for him a few years ago, he has been outstanding. And throwing? I mean, he has a cannon. He’s working on a few things footwork-wise that he’s very comfortable with. He hasn’t stopped working. Even now that he’s catching more he’s doing an outstanding job digging into the information. Offensively, we always felt he was going to hit.

"It was just a matter of him relaxing and playing. After Christian got hurt he saw a different role. His role got bigger, and now you can see he’s not trying to get four hits in one at-bat. He’s taking his walks. He’s not auto-swinging 2-0, 3-1. He’s not too hard on himself when he makes an out. He’s been great. The thing that really impresses me about him is that I bet there were certain days he didn’t want to talk to me. I know that. Been there, done that. But he always kept working and working. He’s here now and his role is a big one. When he doesn’t start he can play first, he can pinch-hit, he can pinch-run. I think versatility that Dave (Dombrowski) recognized that was important and now we’re exploiting that. He has been amazing."

- As Cora was meeting with the media prior to Saturday night's game, Chris Sale sprinted past the group and through the Red Sox dugout on the way out to the bullpen. It brought a smile to the manager's face ... until Sale's cleat caught for a moment, allowing for an awkward stumble.

"Hey, that's good to see," said Cora upon initially witnessing Sale's emergence only to adjust his optimism upon witnessing the misstep. "Ooops. Not that, that didn't sound right."

Sale throwing off a mound in the bullpen was a significant (flawless) step in the right direction. It wasn't part of the initial plan, but after the lefty came through five straight days of playing catch the session was deemed a good idea.

"We talked about it last night. He feels that good," said Cora. "I know we have to be careful but at the same time, we have to trust the player. He's feeling that good and sometimes you've got to please them. You understand that we've got time and you've got to take care of them but he's been feeling great."

- David Price (wrist contusion) also threw, although his activity was limited to just a game of toss in the outfield. Nathan Eovaldi is still going to be taking the lefty's start Monday in Atlanta, but there is some optimism that Price might be able to rejoin the rotation upon the team's return to Fenway Park.

 "He said he had no problems with it but he was just playing catch, it wasn't full blast," Cora said. "It was a good first step, he's confident he'll be able to let it fly a little bit tomorrow and we go from there."