PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — So what now for the Red Sox as they look for solutions to their suddenly paper thin catching situation?
The obvious solution is already in front of them.
Ryan Hanigan and Humberto Quintero. The two veterans. The 35-year-old Quintero is a defensive specialist on his eight major league team, the last five of which he made after signing a minor league contract. He was signed on Jan. 12 after the Mariners released him after last season. The 34-year-old Hanigan played in a career-high 112 games in 2012 as the Reds won the NL Central Division. But since then, his numbers have dropped, playing in 75 and 84 games the last two seasons with the Reds and Rays, respectively. But Hanigan said Saturday he is “absolutely” ready to be the primary catcher if Vazquez is out indefinitely.
“I always train to come in to be a starting guy,” Hanigan said. “That’s what I always wanted, to tell you the truth. I train that way in the offseason so I’m going to work hard to be ready whenever my name is called. I figured that would probably be the situation. But put in my work daily and keep the body going and get on the field.
“You have to put in a lot of time after the game, recovery-wise. As much time as you put in preparing, you have to put in your hour, hour-and-a-half after to make sure you’re ready for the next day. I’ve tweaked my program off and on through the years to try and figure out how my body works and the best way to make myself feel good and fresh every day. You just have to be diligent and be on it and just put in time. These guys [training staff] are great back there. They’re always there for me.”
Blake Swihart is just 22 and considered the second-best catching prospect behind Vazquez in the system. He can hit but the Red Sox would like to see him seasoned more behind the plate. Still, he’s a good enough prospect to have been mentioned this offseason along with Mookie Betts in Cole Hamels trade speculation.
Hanigan’s heart went out to Vazquez when he heard the news that the MRI didn’t come back clean on Saturday.
“It’s tough. I don’t know what to say about that,” Hanigan said. “He’s worked hard. I know he’s excited but he’s young and he’s going to have a bright future and it’s just too bad. I haven’t had a chance to really talk to him yet. I just heard today as well. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Man, he’s a good kid. He worked hard. It’s just too bad. Things happen. He’ll be back. He’s just going to have to put in the work to get himself back. The positive thing is whatever happens, he won’t have to deal with the rest of his career. Get it taken of now. I don’t know what the details are and I don’t want to say anything more about it. I was looking forward to working with him this year. It’s just too bad.
“I don’t speculate. I didn’t know what was going on. I had some arm problems when I was younger, too. I wasn’t sure of the extent of it. You just never know. Yeah, it had been 12 or 13 days at this point, it’s getting to be go-time here. You never know what’s going on. I don’t really worry about the trainers. They know what they’re doing. They get these guys right. When you find out what the deal is all you can do is feel for the kid. You know he’s pumped up, excited, ready to go. It’s just a tough thing but he’ll back. He’ll be back.
“When I was coming up in college, I had some elbow stuff. I changed my strength program, doing some different things to really work on the shoulder, take pressure off the elbow. I was fortunate. I had some guys when I was coming up to show me some things to help me really throw in a way that was going to take as much pressure off that elbow as I could. I was fortunate for that. I really put in the time to make sure that I changed things a little bit to make sure I wasn’t cranking on that elbow too much.”
If Hanigan is THE guy behind the plate to handle the pitching staff, he feels confident he’s learned enough habits of the pitchers to feel authoritative behind the plate.
“Real good, actually. I’ve had a lot of good conversation with these guys,” Hanigan said. “I can still benefit in this next week and a half from sequencing stuff, calling the game, what they can execute, what they can throw off certain pitches but I feel good. I know what their ball does. I know how they want to pitch. I’ve been able to talk to them and give my two cents on what I think can help some of these guys and they’ve been very receptive so far. I’ve gotten good feedback so I’m excited.
“See how it goes. You’re going to make some adjustments on the fly as the season goes I’m sure, and make some changes here and there but I feel good.”
Of course, the Red Sox could opt to take rookie Blake Swihart north with them instead of Quintero if they feel Swihart – and the team – could benefit from being exposed to major league action right out of the gate.
As he has since March 13, when Vazquez caught his last regular spring game, Farrell will look at all options and combinations in the final week before the team breaks camp next Saturday.
“We’ll continue to evaluate the internal candidates,” said Farrell. “That means Quintero, that means Swi is going to catch some [in camp], as he’s been. It means that Hanigan will probably get more games behind the plate as we get into the start of the season. And that’s probably the best I can tell you right now.”
Farrell has seen a catching catastrophe before. In 2010, in his final season as Terry Francona‘s pitching coach, the team lost Jason Varitek to a foot injury and both backups, forcing them to sign Kevin Cash, across the field on Saturday as the Rays’ first-year manager.
“We’re not that desperate yet,” Farrell quipped.
But that joke nearly became reality in the sixth inning Saturday when Hanigan took a foul tip off a Matt Barnes pitch off his left leg. He immediately popped up and hobbled around the plate. Farrell sprinted out of the dugout but not to worry, Hanigan finished the inning and appeared in the dugout in the seventh inning walking around without a limp.
“Just a foul tip. Tipped off his bat and got me,” Hanigan said. “No big deal. Feels alright. Sucked at the time but it’s all good.”