BOSTON — David Ross could have maintained the .120 average he entered Friday’s game with for the rest of the season and he still would have held some value. If he starts delivering at the plate, the Red Sox are receiving a bonus.
Ross came to Boston as one of baseball’s most respected backup catchers, yet it had nothing to do with his offensive potential. Ross hit just .256 in 176 at-bats last season, and he entered Friday’s game as a career .236 hitter. Sure, he has shown flashes of offense throughout his 12-year career — like his 21 homers in 90 games in 2006 or his .392 on-base percentage in 59 games in 2010 — but Ross’ real bread and butter has always been excelling in areas that are much more difficult to quantify.
Ross’ game-calling is considered to be among baseball’s best, his defense and propensity for throwing out would-be base stealers is top notch, and his leadership is something younger players admire. That’s a solid formula for carving out a career as a big league backstop, and the Red Sox found that package to be too good to pass up in the offseason, despite seemingly already having a backup catcher in Ryan Lavarnway.
Through his first eight games in 2013, Ross essentially did what was asked of him. He threw out three of the 10 runners who attempted to steal on him, and he worked tirelessly to get on the same page as the pitching staff. Ross entered Friday’s game with a 3.09 catchers ERA, continuing a stretch in which he leads major league catchers since the beginning of 2009 (minimum 200 games caught) with a 3.31 mark.
On Friday, Ross went above and beyond. He collected a career-high four hits, and he launched two home runs over everything in left field.
“Against the left-handers, we look to match [Ross] up,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the team’s 7-3 win. “[He’s] a very good fastball hitter, even on the 1-2 count where he got a fastball from [Erik] Bedard. But he was able to get himself into some good counts, pick out a fastball and he didn’t miss it.”
Ross’ first home run came in the second inning, and his second blast came in the fourth inning immediately after Will Middlebrooks connected on his sixth dinger of the year. The round-trippers weren’t exactly by design, but Ross certainly isn’t complaining, especially since he had been mired in a 3-for-25 stretch to begin the year.
“Hey man, the way I’ve been swinging, I’m just trying to see the ball and get a hit,” Ross said after the game. “It’s a lot of work…Just constantly working. It’s a constant battle for me and getting in a rhythm. It’s nice to have a big game.”
Ross’ monster performance, which raised his average to .241 and his slugging percentage from .240 to .552, likely won’t evolve into some torrid streak. But with the adjustments he has been making at the dish, we could start to see the power stroke more often.
“[I’m] just getting started a little earlier,” Ross said. “I feel like I haven’t been seeing the ball real well. I’ve kind of been seeing and swinging at the same time, which is just not a good mix. So I just slowed myself down a little bit and tried to get ready a little earlier.”
Ross’ two home runs mark his 11th career multi-homer game, which is the most among active catchers. He also leads all active backstops (minimum of 1,000 plate appearances) with 19.9 at-bats per home run. All of that is still secondary when it comes to Ross’ major league resume, but the Red Sox will certainly take that type of production in addition to all the other good stuff whenever possible.
Ross’ reasoning for tossing in the big flies?
“If [hits are] going to come, there might as well be an RBI along with it, right?”