The Blake Swihart era begins today


Without knowing what the extent of his injury right off the bat, when Ryan Hanigan started shaking his hand after a pitch caromed off Mark Teixeira last night, caught him in his throwing hand, Red Sox fans took notice.  Fans who follow the game avidly know that a strong defensive catcher is key to a team’s success.  Backup Sandy Leon is adequate but has never been a first string catcher.  When the game was lost last night and some veteran guy hit some milestone home run which won the game for the Yankees, their attention turned to the result of the game.  The crucial result from this night was the result of Hanigan’s post-game MRI.  When Hanigan left the game and went in to the clubhouse, fans hoped for the best, but this writer had an inkling about what could be coming.

Hanigan has a displaced fracture of his pinky knuckle and will miss significant time with the injury. Surgery is necessary to repair it. As uber-prospect Swihart and the rest of Red Sox Nation know, he is the heir apparent and he will be in Boston today and in the lineup for the game with the Yankees.

What To Expect from Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart is not going to provide the defense that Hanigan was providing or the grinding at-bats. As Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald pointed out this morning,

"“they were clear that he needed to improve his defense behind the plate, refine his pitch-calling, get better overall as a catcher. One month in Triple A isn’t enough to accomplish all that.”"

Swihart is not ready in terms of his catching skills.  What he might provide is offensive production in terms of hits.  Swihart is hitting .338 with three doubles and 11 RBI in 16 games.  He has hit everywhere he has gone.  Catcher, however, is a different animal than other positions.  You can’t hide a catcher and hope the ball doesn’t find him.

The best thing fans can do for Blake Swihart is temper their immediate expectations.  It is very possible that he gets the start this afternoon against the Yankees.  Starter Wade Miley has had his pair of 2.1 innings and gone, bullpen killing disasters, with Leon behind the plate.  Hanigan almost certainly would have started this game. Swihart will get the call instead.  If he can handle it today, it may go a long way for his standing with the pitchers that will be depending on him. Fans and the team will need to give the young catcher time to get his feet under him at the big league level.

Why Don’t The Red Sox Bring Back Salty Today?

Much was made this week, with the Red Sox one heartbeat away from Sandy Leon as the starting catcher, that the Red Sox should pursue Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whose abysmal two for 33 start caused the Miami Marlins to look elsewhere for their starting catcher despite owing him another $14 million through the end of 2016. Now that the fears of losing Hanigan have been realized, why don’t they bring him back?

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First of all, since the retirement of Jason Varitek in 2011, the Red Sox have realized what a luxury it was to have a defensive star behind the plate. When they brought in David Ross for two seasons, it wasn’t because he could grow a nice beard (though he could), it was for his defensive abilities. Salty is not considered a strong defensive catcher. When Vazquez returns next season, and Hanigan returns from injury later this year, then for another year, Salty would be surplus

Second, even if the Red Sox ignored Salty’s defensive shortcomings and the surplus they have at catcher organizationally, when a player is designated for assignment, the team has ten days to make a deal with someone for him. If a team takes Salty on though, in the absence of a side deal, the new team would be responsible for that $14 million. Teams are not going to do that before the ten days are up. When the ten days expire, whoever signs him would only be responsible for the major league minimum. Salty is still only 30 years old. He will catch on somewhere.

Third, fans should realize that the front office is not generally going to express interest publicly in someone they want. They could very well want Salty back, but don’t want to say anything before that ten day period expires. Given the team’s stress of defensive skills at the catcher position and the fact that the team essentially let him walk before last season, it is hard to see the Red Sox bringing him back, even at the minimum. So they may really just not want him back. The team might bring in a veteran backup to relieve pressure on Swihart, it just probably will not be Salty.

What Does This Mean For the Pitching Staff?

As you might imagine, this is bad news for a pitching staff that has struggled, especially in the starting rotation. For a rookie catcher playing coming to the majors on a moment’s notice, there will be some growing pains. The catcher can be like another coach out there. The pitchers rely on him to steer their pitch selection in the right direction considering multiple factors. Who are the opposing hitters and what are their tendencies? What is this pitcher’s repertoire? What does he like to throw in certain situations with the confidence that will make his stuff effective? Post game last night Justin Masterson, talking to, was blunt in what needs to happen.

"“It’ll come down to getting on the same page behind the dish, and that’s something Hanigan did really well,” Masterson said. “Understanding what guys like to do, and making it easier on the pitcher. Guys are going to have to think a little bit more, work a bit harder…. It’s going to be a tough loss. There are going to be people that need to step up to kind of make up for him being gone.”"

The time is now for Blake Swihart.  He is the top-rated catching prospect in baseball.  Is he up to the challenge?