May 27, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz (34) pours water on his face against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Early Innings: Grading the Red Sox at Catcher and DH


Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays was the 54th of the 2014 MLB season, which is exactly one-third of the way through the 162-game schedule. The campaign has had its share of highs, lows and head-scratchers so far. The BSI team will look back on the first two months by evaluating the team’s performance, position-by-position.

Previously: Starting pitchers, bullpen, infield, outfield

Catcher

A.J. Pierzynski: B -

One of the more scrutinized spots on the Red Sox roster has been the catcher position. With the departure of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who slashed .244/.306/.457 over the last three seasons, to the Marlins on a three-year, $21 million pact, GM Ben Cherington went with the “bridge year” approach at catcher and brought in veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski, who had slashed .279/.316/.445 over the last three years, on a one-year, $8.25 million deal.

Last year’s backup, 37-year old David Ross, who logged 16 at-bats in the World Series with Saltalamacchia on the pine, remained with the team as part of the transition to youngsters Christian Vasquez and Blake Swihart.

The departed Salty had a hot April. He slashed .299/.409/.571 with five home runs while the Red Sox and Pierzynski struggled to consistently visit the win column.

So of course Red Sox Nation responded by turning on Pierzynski and pining for Saltalamacchia, the guy with the sewing kit-exhausting last name, the spaghetti hair, the .306 on-base percentage and the splinters in his butt from the World Series. But the convenient narrative was that Saltalamacchia had matured into some kind of on-base machine, while Pierzynski, a free swinger, didn’t fit the Red Sox’ approach.

In May, Salty dropped like Duck Hunt fowl, slashing .177/.258/.241 with one homer.  Meanwhile, Pierzynski has steadily thwacked to a tune of .288/.318/.417, right in line with his career numbers. Additionally, AJP is fifth in the league in runners caught stealing, throwing out one of every three would-be thieves, while Saltalamacchia lags near the bottom of the list of qualifying backstops at just 17 percent.

Pundits also tried to re-ignite the narrative that Pierzynski isn’t a good guy and is causing problems in the clubhouse. In the throes of a 10-game losing streak, the media turned up the heat by implying he was the reason Jon Lester tossed a stinker against the Jays. Pierzynski obviously bristled. Can you blame him? The guy has been as advertised. Watch the wins pile up.

David Ross: C -

Lester is comfortable with Ross behind the plate. “Personal catchers” aren’t a new thing. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux preferred Eddie Perez to Javy Lopez. In New York, A.J. Burnett wanted Francisco Cervelli over Jorge Posada. Josh Beckett had his binky in Jason Varitek. And while Ross is hitting just .167, he’s doing the things expected of a backup catcher.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vasquez got some at-bats at the expense of either one of these guys later in the season.

Designated Hitter

David Ortiz: B

Following a wrist injury and subsequent two-year lull, Big Papi rebounded over the last few seasons to become a better contact hitter than ever before and a clutch power threat. With a .262 average, 12 homers and 31 RBI this year, his power numbers project nicely. But when the team was struggling, media and fans called for Ortiz to do more. It’s a lot to ask of a 38-year old, but that’s the way the Red Sox are set up: as Ortiz goes, so go the Red Sox. When they need run production, his number is going to be called.

Some health for Mike Napoli would probably help Papi’s cause. He’s been issued 13 intentional walks, well on the way to a career high. He’s also amassed 38 strikeouts, which is uncharacteristically high given his recent history. These numbers seem to indicate he’s not seeing a lot of pitches to hit. And who could blame the opposition?

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Tags: A.J. Pierzynski Boston Red Sox David Ortiz David Ross Jarrod Saltalamacchia