Today started off so nicely, but things have really taken a turn. Early this morning, I received a tip that Sandy Leon was no longer in Pawtucket, meaning he was almost definitely shipping back up to Boston. Great news, considering the struggling starting rotation loves him, and haven’t been pitching well without him.
Reliever Marcus Walden had been sent down last night after a poor outing yesterday, in which he gave up a 2-run homer in Boston’s 8-1 loss to Baltimore, so there was room for Sandy. For what it’s worth, I still prefer Walden to Hembree and Thornburg, but it’s about club options, so we’re stuck with them.
But then, news broke that the Red Sox have designated catcher/super-utility player Blake “Rake” Swihart for assignment. Assuming he doesn’t clear waivers, the underrated and under-appreciated guy is gone.
It was a shocking move for the Sox, who now have three open roster spots and no real talent to fill them with. And it’s almost absolutely a mistake. With Brock Holt on the IL indefinitely, Dustin Pedroia a liability as he attempts his comeback, and Eduardo Nuñez a terrible second baseman, to name a few issues plaguing this infield defense, keeping Swihart, who can play other positions, around would’ve been smart. But the Sox have never known how to handle Swihart, so it’s not entirely surprising. He’s been sent up and down and played all around since joining the team.
When Sandy didn’t make the cut at the start of the season, it was pretty shocking. The Red Sox gave fellow catcher Christian Vazquez a big extension last year, so it was assumed that he was staying, whether we liked it or not. But the pitchers love throwing to Sandy, and their numbers when he’s catching are absurdly good. However, Dombrowski and Cora were adamant about not coddling the pitchers, and so the season began without Sandy. And without him, Chris Sale is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA and 2.00 K/BB ratio. He’s said that he’s never felt this lost on the mound before, and it’s public knowledge that he loves pitching to Sandy. With Sandy catching him last season, Sale posted a 2.04 ERA and 8.90 K/BB ratio; batters were hitting .177 against him.
The timing of Sandy’s return makes sense, as the Red Sox are in New York today for a 2-game series against the Yankees, or a facsimile of them, since a good 80% of their team is on the Injured List. Sale, making his fourth start of the season tonight, has the lowest career ERA against the Yankees of any starting pitcher with ten or more starts against them since the Live Ball Era began in 1920. I’d be shocked if Sandy Leon isn’t the man behind the catcher’s mask tonight.
But this whole situation reeks of desperation, and it’s sad to see how far the “defending champs” have fallen just a few weeks into the season. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done now about the real root of the pitching problem: not getting enough play during Sox Spring. Instead, Blake Swihart gets the short end of the stick yet again, a former first-round pick, who put up good offensive and defensive numbers when he was actually getting adequate playing time. In twelve games this season, Swihart went 4 for 26 with a double, a homer, and seven strikeouts. He slashed .231/.310/.385, which is actually not bad considering the team’s slumping offense.
Hopefully, Sandy’s return pays immediate dividends. But in the long run, getting rid of Swihart will likely come back to bite the Sox. He’s only 27 years old, the same age as his mentor and close friend Jason Varitek was when he became the team’s full-time catcher and eventual captain. It would be great if the Sox could finally figure out a way to keep him and how to use him in an effective way that’s actually fair to him. But if not, he deserves a chance to go elsewhere and actually have the career he deserves.
Photo: The Runner Sports