In most instances, a manager will focus on the opposing team’s starting pitcher when filling out his lineup card prior to a game.
But that may end up being the opposite of what Boston Red Sox manage John Farrell will do when he fills his out before Boston takes the field against the New York Yankees on April 1. It appears that Farrell will put more emphasis on his starting pitcher than New York’s, who is likely to be CC Sabathia.
Farrell has yet to announce who his Opening Day starter will be, but as Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston writes, all signs point to Jon Lester. Lester has started Boston’s first game the last two seasons, but is coming off a terrible season.
In 2012, Lester went 9-14 in 33 starts, posting a 4.82 ERA across 205.1 innings of work. Lester, however, has had a remarkable spring. In five starts, he has thrown 20 innings while allowing just a pair of earned runs. He’s struck out 16 batters and has walked just four. Giving him the nod on April 1 seems like a no-brainer.
Lester starting against the Yankees does affect who Farrell puts into the lineup, though. Farrell has to decide whether Jarrod Saltalamacchia or David Ross is going to be the Lester’s catcher when the Red Sox take the field against the Bronx Bombers.
While Saltalamacchia is the regular catcher on the roster and Ross is the backup, Ross may end up getting the start. As Edes explains, Ross has caught Lester more times than Saltalamacchia has this spring. Even though Farrell has said he won’t have specific pitcher-catcher pairings, the Boston newcomer may end up being Lester’s regular catcher.
Lester doesn’t think so, though, according to Edes.
"Salty's the starting catcher, isnt he?'' Lester said after Daniel Butler caught him in a minor league game, while Saltalamacchia was behind the plate for Daniel Bard. "I would imagine it’s Salty. I think that’s up to John Farrell when it comes down to that stuff. I would imagine if Salty's the guy we're going with, he’s the guy who will be catching me.''
While Saltalamacchia may end up being the guy behind the plate most this season and the one that catches Lester more often than not, there are some extenuating circumstances that are out of his control.
David Ortiz is going to miss the start of the season as he continues to battle heel issues, leaving the designated hitter’s spot in the lineup unaccounted for. As spring training comes to a close, it appears that Saltalamacchia is a prime candidate to fill in while Ortiz is sidelined.
Saltalamacchia isn’t a fan of that notion, according to Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal.
“I’m not a DH,” said Saltalamacchia. “I don’t want to be a DH. I’m not used to sitting on the bench, even if I go in the cages [during the game]. I’m used to catching where I see a ball coming. That helps me because I’m not walking up to the plate having not seen anything. You’re seeing balls come in from your pitchers. You already have that timing down. That helps me.”
Saltalamacchia’s career splits confirm his comments. Over the course of his career, Saltalamacchia has been a .245/.308/.434 hitter as a catcher and a .231/.351/.308 hitter as a designated hitter.
So what should Farrell do?
Although Saltalamacchia is a much better hitter as a catcher, it seems probable that he’ll be the Opening Day designated hitter.
Jonny Gomes is another candidate to fill the void left by Ortiz, but Saltalamacchia is definitely going to be in the lineup, unless he gets injured in the next week or so. Since Ross has been catching Lester the most this spring, one would assume that he’d be in the lineup as well. That would mean that Gomes likely plays left field on April 1.
This situation wouldn’t be nearly as complicated if Clay Buchholz looked like the Opening Day starter instead of Lester. But Lester gives Boston the best chance at opening the 2013 season with a win.