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When the Boston Red Sox failed to sign free agent catcher Victor Martinez during the offseason, they weren’t terribly worried. They felt they had a diamond in the rough in Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia, dealt to the Sox last season at the trade deadline by the Texas Rangers, saw very limited action behind Martinez, and the Sox never got a clear picture as to his overall talents. However, general manager Theo Epstein nonetheless felt confident enough to take a flyer on Martinez and give Saltalamacchia a chance to start behind the plate.
Thus far this spring, Salty has done nothing to disappoint, hitting .355 with one homer and eight runs batted in, and gaining rave reviews for his handling of the pitching staff. During Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzake clearly felt comfortable throwing to Salty, something that was missing with Martinez behind the plate.
The other members of the Sox starting rotation have been impressed with what they’ve seen from Saltalamacchia as well.
“It’s funny, because he does things like ‘Tek (Jason Varitek) now,” Josh Beckett told MLB.com. “There’s not a better guy to follow if you’re in that position. Everyone said the same thing: ‘He looks like ‘Tek.’ That’s a pretty good guy to look like.”
Ace left-hander Jon Lester agrees with Beckett. “I’ve told a couple of people I think he reminds me a lot of ‘Tek,” Lester said. “He’s got that presence about him. When he talks, you listen. I don’t know if that’s just because he’s a big son of a gun or what, but when he comes out there and says something, you listen to what he has to say.”
High praise coming from the top of the rotation. However, Saltalamacchia knows he has his work cut out for him.
“I’m going to show up every day and give it my best,” said Saltalamacchia. “That’s all I can do. I’m not worried about how many fans are in the stands or the Yankees or anything like that. I’ve got to do what I can do.”
While the Boston Red Sox may have lost the annual Mayor’s Cup in Fort Meyers, and Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was looking for a call from President Obama, the Sox were more than content with the performance of their number five starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Dice-K gave up an early run on Saturday to the Twins, but then shut them down for his final five innings. In his last three spring starts, Matsuzaka has a 1.62 ERA, with 13 strikeouts and just four walks in 16.2 innings.
It’s a far cry from the two previous springs, when Dice-K took heat from the Sox for showing up out of shape in 2009 and hurting his shoulder two weeks into the season, and last year starting the season on the disabled list.
This spring, on the advice of new Sox pitching coach Curt Young, Dice-K altered his between-starts routine, during which he typically threw long toss and a bullpen side session on the same day. Young thought Matsuzaka was being sapped of arm strength with that routine, and now Dice-K has given up the long toss.
The results can’t be a coincidence.
While Matsuzaka won’t admit that the change in routine has helped, he does much better going into the 2011 season.
“My first objective was to keep healthy…and stand at the same starting line as the other pitchers,’’ Matsuzaka told ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes. “I’m very happy with that.’’
Sox manager Terry Francona is pretty happy with it, too.
“His stuff was sharp, and his fastball had real good finish,’’ he said.