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PAWTUCKET â€“ Hear Matt Barnes talk about recently-arrived catcher Christian Vazquez and itâ€™s clear that whoever takes the mound on a given day is in good hands.
â€śWeâ€™re very fortunate to have someone of his ability behind the plate. You give him a chance and he can throw almost anybody out. Heâ€™s got a bazooka for an arm,â€ť gushed Barnes, who has been tabbed as Pawtucketâ€™s starter for Game 4 of the Governorsâ€™ Cup first-round series against Rochester. â€śSince Iâ€™ve been working with him over the last couple of years, weâ€™ve been able to learn about each other. Itâ€™s nice to go into the game knowing that thereâ€™s a game plan in place already.
â€śHe knows what I like to do and I trust him now,â€ť Barnes said, â€śbut if he sees something, weâ€™re going to go with that. Itâ€™s nice to have a relationship with a guy like that.â€ť
The PawSox were in the market for a second catcher after Ryan Lavarnway was summoned to Boston as a September call-up. Decision makers could have opted to bring Alberto Rosario back into the fold â€“ the 26-year-old appeared in 30 games with Pawtucket.
Instead, Vazquez was the choice following a strong season for Double-A Portland.
Lauded for his ability to limit traffic on the base paths, the 23-year-old Vazquez nabbed 47 would-be base stealers in the Eastern League this year. By comparison, Bostonâ€™s Jarrod Saltalamacchia has caught just 38 baserunners over 210 big-league games over the past two seasons.
Told about Barnes complimenting his â€śbazookaâ€ť right arm, Vazquez smiled.
â€śI like to throw long every day in order to get my arm stronger,â€ť he said. â€śI run a lot and lift â€¦ all the things that are going to help me.â€ť
Added Barnes, â€śAs long as Iâ€™m timely to the plate and good with holding runners, the chances of someone stealing second or third against a guy like that is pretty slim. That takes the burden off my back as long as I do my job to get him the ball and give him a chance.â€ť
Gary DiSarcina managed Vazquez during the 2009 season in Single-A Lowell. The PawSox skipper said he had to do a double take after the backstop officially joined the Class AAA ranks earlier this week.
â€śHe was much bigger and wasnâ€™t playing much. [In Lowell] he was the third catcher. When he did get in, he was raw,â€ť DiSarcina recalled. â€śHe had the arm, and from what I remember, he had the accuracy but not the arm strength.
â€śI think with the conditioning that heâ€™s done and just playing, his strength has come around,â€ť DiSarcina added. â€śHeâ€™s done a lot of good work.â€ť
The same statement might as well apply to the strides Vazquez has made offensively. Last year between Portland and Single-A Salem, he batted .254 with a .344 on-base percentage in 101 innings. This season, he raised his average to .289 while notching just as many strikeouts (47) as walks (44).
As Vazquez noted, itâ€™s not easy to put yourself at the mercy of the pitching staff while at the same time making sure youâ€™re hitting skills donâ€™t deteriorate to the point that youâ€™re considered a liability.
â€śAt the plate, my approach is simple: donâ€™t think too much,â€ť said Vazquez, a Puerto Rico native who was drafted by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. â€śItâ€™s a hard game. You have to be a leader in the field on top of hitting, blocking balls in the first and throwing guys out at second base. Itâ€™s hard, but you need to do those things if you want to play in the big leagues.â€ť
The peace of mind that Barnes has whenever heâ€™s paired up with Vazquez was matched on Thursday night in Rochester, when the Red Sox elected to have the just-promoted catcher fill the role of caretaker for Clay Buchholz.
â€śThat was first time working with (Buchholz) and it was fun,â€ť said Vazquez. â€śWe talked before the game, going through the signs we would use.â€ť
Said DiSarcina, â€śChristian called a good game with Clay. He made a couple of trips to the mound early in the game, but I thought he received well. Heâ€™s not shy back there. Heâ€™s assertive and aggressive.â€ť
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