The Boston Red Sox will be without catcher Sandy Leon for a few days while he’s on paternity leave. How will they get by without him?
The Boston Red Sox will be forced to relive one of their early season nightmares this weekend – life without Sandy Leon.
The team announced on Friday that Leon has been placed on the paternity leave list as he welcomes his second child. This means he’ll miss up to three games as the Red Sox get set for a pivotal series against last year’s ALCS foe, the Houston Astros.
Leon failed to make the Opening Day roster but his absence was quickly pointed to as an excuse for the starting rotation stumbling out of the gate. In what may eventually be viewed as an overreaction to a slow start, the Red Sox gave up on the once-promising Blake Swihart in order to bring Leon and his Mendoza Line batting average back to the big leagues.
The pitching staff has settled down since Leon’s return, although it’s a stretch to attribute the turnaround to the backup catcher. Christian Vazquez has still received the majority of the playing time and is in the midst of a breakout year, slashing .294/.348/.490 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 33 games.
Vazquez will continue to be the primary option behind the plate but not having Leon available for a few games could have some ramifications.
25-year old Oscar Hernandez has been called up to temporarily replace Leon on the active roster. He owns an unimpressive .167/.239/.262 line in 22 career major league games with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Red Sox signed him to a minor league deal last year and he’s hitting a meager .111 with a .393 OPS in 16 games split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this season.
The preferred option would have been Juan Centeno, who is hitting a solid .274 in Pawtucket and has significantly more big league experience. Unfortunately, he’s out of minor league options so it would have been unwise to call him up for a few days only to risk exposing him to waivers.
Hernandez would ideally be limited to a break glass in case of emergency scenario but that puts a burden on Vazquez to start at least three games in a row. That includes a day game on Sunday following a night game, a spot where teams prefer to rest their primary catcher.
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Sunday is when Chris Sale is scheduled to take the mound and he may be paired with Vazquez if Leon isn’t ready to return yet. The outcry from fans about how Leon’s banishment to the minors was detrimental to the pitching staff was loudest when it came to Sale. It’s unfair to blame Vazquez for Sale’s early struggles – a reduced workload in spring training left each of Boston’s starters unprepared for the regular season. Yet there’s no denying that Sale has historically pitched better since joining the Red Sox when Leon is his battery mate.
That trend has followed this season with Sale posting a 2.61 ERA and 14.25 K/BB ratio in five starts with Leon compared to a 6.75 ERA and 2.29 K/BB ratio in four starts with Vazquez. Obviously, other factors colluded to drag down Sale’s numbers early this season that have nothing to do with his catcher yet the perception remained that the ace needed his security blanket.
It may not matter who is catching Sale the way he’s throwing lately. The lefty is coming off an incredible 17-strikeout performance and owns a 1.91 ERA over his last five starts. If this stretch of dominance is interrupted by a clunker with Vazquez behind the plate, expect the Leon supporters to come out in full force.
As for Leon, he deserves a few days off to be with his family. Congrats on the newborn baby, Sandy! He may only be gone a few days but the pitching staff will surely be glad to have his calming presence behind the plate when he returns.