Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez made his long awaited return from Tommy John surgery to play against the Baltimore Orioles.
Ian Browne of MLB.com covered the game, reporting how “the comeback game from Tommy John surgery was short but definitely sweet, as Vazquez caught two innings and went 0-for-1 as the Red Sox beat the Orioles, 5-1.” Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “He looked very comfortable […] He handled a couple of balls in the dirt clean. You look at his throws down to second in between innings. They looked similar to what they were pre-surgery.” Browne also added that Vazquez will likely be starting the season for Triple-A Pawtucket, while Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan seem to be the duo getting the start and backup roles for the big club.
For Vazquez, even without a hit, it was a triumph. He was able to take his position behind the plate and do the job that he loves. The 5’9″, 200 lb. native of Puerto Rico had to overcome a great deal of pain and frustration, missing all of last season. Now, even though there is no sense of urgency from the Red Sox to rush him back, Vazquez has taken the first step to being a full-time player again.
Being only 25, much has happened in the span of two years, which must have taxed him mentally.
After making a great case for himself being the new Red Sox starting catcher for the foreseeable future, Vazquez’s time away has allowed Swihart to get even more games under his own belt than the protagonist in this medical update. Vazquez had shown great defensive talent for 55 games with Boston, throwing out 52% potential basestealers and posted a .987 fielding percentage. Swihart took over for Vazquez and got his own feet wet as an MLB catcher in 84 games and posted a .995 fielding percentage. However, Swihart only threw out 28% of the base runners trying to steal.
Therefore, Vazquez’s biggest weapon to maintain his job was his throwing arm, the very same limb that became injured and required intense surgery.
It’s not like Vazquez’s righty bat was the reason for him remaining in the lineup. According to Brooks Baseball, Vazquez could only hit pitches down the middle of the plate or just inside for him to pull the ball. Overally, Vazquez hit a slash line of .240/.308/.309, with a single home run and 20 RBIs. Swihart, two years Vazquez’s junior, hit .274/.319/.392 with five homers and 31 RBIs. His success stemmed from the fact that Swihart could hit from almost anywhere in the strikezone, hitting better than .261 in every spot other than the lower half of the outside of the plate. What is also interesting is that pitchers stayed away from Swihart and his .577 average down the pipe, and yet the youngster could hit pitches destined to be balls outside the strikezone. Most pitches that Vazquez saw suggested that the opposing pitchers attacked the strikezone, essentially coming right at him and thinking that he couldn’t hit very well. Vazquez’s lack of success outside of the strikezone, and even within it, proved them correct.
Rushing Vazquez would be very detrimental to his future career, no matter how much the young man wants to play. With his bat being weaker than Swihart’s, it is essential that Vazquez takes care of his surgically-repaired throwing arm, as it is his most important weapon in the fight to be the Red Sox starting catcher, or even the starting catcher for another team, one day. Hopefully, for his sake, Vazquez sees the value in patience.