NEW YORK – Everywhere they turn, the Red Sox see areas on their team that need repair.
On Tuesday, they made a catching change to bring stability to the pitching staff.
Their fix-it list on the 2019 ballclub is long and has items yet to be checked off, but the club believes it got shorter by bringing up defensive stalwart and pitchers’ favorite Sandy Leon.
Odd man out was Blake Swihart, whose Red Sox tenure could be over if no team claims him over the next week or the Red Sox work out a trade for him. But as painful as the move was to expose Swihart to leaving the Red Sox family, the Red Sox believe that this is what’s best for the whole team.
“We just figured we wanted to bring Leon up to handle our pitching staff, he’s really good at it,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski before his 6-11 team began its first series of the season against the Yankees. “We’re in a position, that’s what we decided to do.”
Dombrowski said this was not the time to assess if the Red Sox brought along their pitchers too slowly in spring training in their effort to compensate for the extra pitching they did last October as well as in anticipation of more work this October.
That said, Dombrowski was non-specific about what is wrong with the pitching staff, saying, “you’d have to ask others” for those answers.
“Some of the starters just haven’t been throwing well on a consistent basis,” said Dombrowski. “We’ll see. We took them out of the gates slow. Price threw better last time. Rodriguez threw better last time. We’re hoping our starters continue to build on that.”
Dombrowski said that the team had a “split camp” in Fort Myers about which of the catchers – Christian Vazquez is not going anywhere – should be on the outs when the club began its season in Seattle. Leon lost that discussion. He won Monday’s meeting, which the team held at Fenway Park when their plane to New York got delayed by weather.
“In spring training with our catching, we had a split camp on what move we were going to make, we debated it long and hard, finally decided to go in this direction because it is actually finally my decision,” said Dombrowski. “It ended up being a spot where we also thought we might get Leon through waivers which we did so we could have some depth. But then as we got here at this point, really, there’s only one move you can make and that’s with Swihart if you’re going to replace him.”
Swihart was always viewed as having the most offensive potential of the three catchers, but he has yet to reach it. He appeared in 12 games this season and hit .231 with a .310 on-base percentage and a home run.
“The feeling was that he would add to us from an offensive perspective.” said Dombrowski. “He’s a young guy that can continue to grow and get better, and his defense would be solid.”
Alex Cora said he plans to roughly split time between Vazquez and Leon much like they did last year.
“I told Sandy don’t feel like you have to come here and be the savior, it doesn’t work that way but there’s a comfort level, we know what he’s done the last few years,” said Cora. “Nothing against Blake obviously, you know how we feel about him, too. It’s one of those baseball decisions. People talk and that’s the cool thing about our organization. When we get together it’s an open floor and people can have their own opinions. That’s something I appreciate. Not only Dave, but ownership and everybody that gets involved. We’re trying to do the best we have to do to get better. Today, tomorrow, the rest of the season. I think game management is very important with him. He’s able to slow things down and the communication factor with Sandy, it’s a good one. Not only with the coaching staff but with the pitchers. We feel it’s going to be good.”
Dombrowski said he is not letting the early-season stretch of consistent poor play grow into a level of concern that’s unwarranted.
“I’m concerned, because we haven’t played well, but I’m not overly concerned, because it’s early in the season and I’ve been through this where you go through streaks with clubs,” said Dombrowski. “Really, when you start looking at our club, you say, well what facet of your club is playing really well, and we’re really not playing very well anywhere. Our starting pitching hasn’t been very good, our defense hasn’t been overly good, our hitting hasn’t been like it’s been capable of being. So we’ve just had a tough start really, is what it comes down to. I’ve seen these things happen before.
“Am I concerned? Yeah. I’ll be concerned until we start playing better.”