There were rave reviews for the young starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and everyone was pleased to have the old captain, Jason Varitek, onboard for another year. Their partnership blossomed, and a position of instability after the Victor Martinez departure was seemingly becoming a position of strength.
Then, throws to second began to fly into center field, pitchers struggled and both Saltalamacchia and Varitek provided next to nothing at the plate. Suddenly, the predominant talk revolved around what the team would do to correct its issues behind the plate. A position of strength was anything but.
However, what stood out about that talk back in March was that the situation was a bit of a work in progress. The club had to exercise patience, even if the fans could not, and in time there would be rewards.
Those rewards are now coming on a daily basis.
Varitek helped guide Josh Beckett through another outstanding outing and continued his mini-surge at the plate with a two-run homer in Boston's 4-2 win at Cleveland on Tuesday night.
Including Tuesday's effort at the plate, Varitek is batting .381 (8-for-21) with the home run, a double, three walks and five RBIs over his last six starts. Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, has hit safely in 14 of his last 19 starts, showcasing a solid .273 (18-for-66) mark in that span, including home runs in three of four games entering the series against the Indians.
For Varitek, it is beginning to look a little like his hot start in 2010, when he embraced his part-time role and seemed to flourish at the plate because of the reduced strain on his body. One might recall Varitek hitting .342 with six home runs on May 11, 2010.
"Early on I just took some bad swings, especially right-handed, but I think all along I've had pretty consistent at-bats left-handed, and once I was able to turn that around right-handed, I've had some good at-bats," he said Tuesday.
Varitek was batting from the left side — traditionally his weaker side — when he smacked a Fausto Carmona offering off the right-field foul pole to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead in the seventh.
"Nice to see Tek do that," manager Terry Francona said. "He's been such a leader for us, when he's playing and when he's not playing. To see him bang that ball, it's a good feeling."
The two-run shot proved to be the difference on the scoreboard, but it was Varitek's help behind the plate that put Beckett in such a great position to begin with.
On a night when Beckett struggled with his curveball, Varitek kept experimenting with other offerings that always seemed to work. And after Beckett threw 21 pitches in the first and 23 in the second, it was Varitek who got him out of the third and the fourth, throwing out a runner at second in both frames.
It was the first time this year that Varitek had nailed two would-be base stealers in one game, and it kept the catching tandem on a pretty remarkable run in that category. Over the last seven games, opponents have stolen just two bases in six attempts against Varitek and Saltalamacchia.
That has been an issue in recent years for Varitek and whoever he's shared catching duties with. It seems as if the hard work put in under the sun in Florida is beginning to pay off.
Beckett, for one, sees the value.
"It's huge, because of my pitch count," said the right-hander, who allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings. "Like I said, I put myself in some bad situations. I think I had three 1-2-3 innings and two of them were because of him. Saves me pitches."
Not to take anything away from Beckett's outstanding stretch, but he is getting used to receiving help from Varitek. Beckett is 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA in his last nine starts, all with Varitek behind the plate. He gave up three runs and took the loss in his season debut working with Saltalamacchia, but the younger of the two backstops has settled in nicely with other members of the staff — namely Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
Essentially, the partnership is flourishing.
"I think they're doing a great job," Francona said of his two catchers. "I think they're feeding off each other. They're helping each other. When one guy's catching, the other guy's around helping."
And the one guy who is catching is doing plenty to help out in his own regard. Varitek's all-around effort Tuesday night was the latest example, making those who lauded the pair in March feel a bit better about their lofty predictions.