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Red Sox report: Ankle. Parasite. Roster. Blake Swihart knows 'it's do or die'

Rob Bradford
February 12, 2018 - 4:32 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The path seemed so clear for Blake Swihart. Now?

"It's do or die," he said.

Swihart was one of the diamonds in the Red Sox' farm system, ready to take hold of the big league club's catching duties certainly by the 2017 season. And when he kicked off 2016 as the Opening Day starter there was nothing to suggest the plan was going to change.

But then came an injury to his left ankle, followed by a subsequent surgery. He would join the regulars throughout the entirety of last spring training, but few knew that his first -- and biggest -- roadblock hadn't gone anywhere.

"I think last year I tried to do too much too early and pushed myself and ended up hurting myself," Swihart told WEEI.com after Monday morning's workout at JetBlue Park. "I was just kind of pushing through it the whole time and it got to a point where I could barely get out of my squat. [Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles> Bolesy in Pawtucket said, 'We have to get this right.' It took some time. I would say by the end of the year is when I started feeling OK. It was just all the complications of surgery

"I've always been on a guy who sits on his backside hitting left-handed and my ankle wasn't allowing me to do that. At the end of the year when I got called up I was just kind of re-teaching myself how to hit left-handed the way I knew I could."

It was all well and good to put his nightmarish 53-game season in Triple-A (where he hit just .193) in the rearview mirror, but there were still some obstacles to overcome. 

Playing exclusively at catcher except for one game at first base in the Dominican Winter League -- hitting .407 (11-for-27) -- Swihart was feeling himself again. "It helped prove to myself that I was healthy. It was the first time playing games feeling good. I felt good out there," he said. " Then came the parasite.

After nine games Swihart was sent home due to a parasite he had ingested, forcing the 25-year-old to lose 25 pounds. Adding insult to injury was that his wedding was right around the corner.

"I gained some weight so I could fit in my suit," he said. "I lost 25 pounds. Came home 170. I haven't been under 170 since the day I signed."

As he arrived back in Florida, taking up spring training residence with another newlywed, Robby Scott, Swihart was confident the all of the previous issues were a thing of the past. Now he could focus on the next challenge -- making the Red Sox roster.

Swihart is out of options heading into camp, with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon seemingly entrenched at the catching position. For the time being, he is solely focused on living life as a catcher, but that certainly isn't set in stone as spring training evolves. He has already lived life as an outfielder and first baseman in professional baseball, having also served as a shortstop prior to joining the Red Sox organization.

There are a few ways this could go, a reality Swihart isn't blind to. But as camp gets underway, the switch-hitter certainly gives off a vibe of someone who isn't worried about his lot in life.

"It was frustrating but I think I'm in a good spot now and it feels good to finally be healthy and ready to go," he said. "I think I'm in a good position, especially now that I feel healthy. And when I'm healthy I know what kind of baseball player I can be. It's my time to go prove it. It's do or die. I'm not stressed at all about it. I just have to go out and play the game I know how to play."

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