FORT MYERS, Fla. — Even a 16-year veteran needs time to get acclimated when switching teams.
Boston Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski played in his first spring training game with his new club Saturday. Pierzynski went 0-for-3 at the dish, but more importantly, the contest represented another step forward for the 37-year-old backstop as he continues to get on the same page as the Red Sox’s pitching staff.
“You can catch guys in the bullpen. You can do all the things — sidework and the pitchers’ BP and all that stuff — but until you get in the game and actually get there with live hitters and live action and see what they do in situations, you really don’t learn much about them other than what pitches they throw,” Pierzynski said after exiting Saturday’s Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins.
Pierzynski seemingly was one of the few catchers the Red Sox considered in free agency over the offseason. Boston was reluctant to make any long-term commitments at the position given its organizational depth, and that reluctance ultimately led to Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s departure.
But the decision to sign Pierzynski over some other options likely stemmed from the veteran’s ample big league experience as well. While Pierzynski has a reputation of being a polarizing player, the Red Sox realized they could bring him in with a good understanding of what exactly he’ll provide, even if it ends up being just a one-year relationship.
“Just hearing him talk around the cage and in the clubhouse, he’s not trying to be somebody other than who he is and he’s fit in well so far,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Saturday. “Really, I didn’t anticipate anything different than that.”
The Red Sox’s long-term future at catcher likely involves Christian Vazquez and/or Blake Swihart — each of whom is with the major league squad this spring. But 2014 marks a critical season for the development of several of the Red Sox’s young pitchers, and Pierzynski and David Ross are tasked with ensuring everything goes smoothly in the hurlers’ progression.
“He’s the pitcher’s eyes from the position he sits and (can determine) how the hitters are reacting and (how) to sell that pitcher on maybe an adjustment inside a given game,” Farrell said of the importance of catching. “That’s all about getting the most out of a pitcher on a given night.”
Saltalamacchia, in addition to making strides in his game management last season, enjoyed a career year offensively. Pierzynski will need to provide his usual pop this season, but hitting must temporarily take a backseat while the finer points of catching are addressed.
“There’s going to be things that just need to go through the cycle and have repetition to it,” Farrell said. “You can’t just automatically think he’s going to build a rapport with someone and have them buy into him completely. It just takes time.”
The clock is ticking, but that’s the point of spring training.
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