BOSTON -- Christian Vazquez was not only back for the Red Sox on Friday night at Fenway Park, but he was in charge while helping his team to a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays.Standing at shortstop, Xander Bogaerts noticed the difference in the top of the first inning."From that
BOSTON -- Christian Vazquez was not only back for the Red Sox on Friday night at Fenway Park, but he was in charge while helping his team to a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays.
Standing at shortstop, Xander Bogaerts noticed the difference in the top of the first inning.
"From that first inning, seeing Vazquez behind the plate, I remember seeing him calling some pitches [Rick] Porcello wasn't really sure what he wanted to throw, and Vazquez was, 'Hey, throw that ball where I tell you to throw it.' And he got outs like that," Bogaerts said. "The confidence starts going up from there."
The moment the entire ballpark felt Vazquez's return from Tommy John surgery occurred in the top of the second. As Michael Saunders struck out swinging for the second out, Vazquez snapped a throw to first and picked off Troy Tulowitzki to end the inning.
"I think it energized the dugout when he ends the inning with a pickoff at first," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "The trait of Christian shows up in a number of ways tonight."
According to Statcast™, Vazquez had a pop time of 1.5 seconds on the electrifying play, which started a string in which starting pitcher Porcello retired 12 batters in a row.
"The pickoff was huge to get us out of that inning, and I got on a roll after that," Porcello said. "That's a huge play. I know he's got a great arm, and that was proof."
If anything, the play was an immediate reminder of the difference-maker Vazquez is when he throws on the gear.
"The one thing that hasn't been affected is his footwork and his transfer," Farrell said. "It's lightning quick. I think his arm strength is approaching the pre-surgery level. When you consider all the other things we've talked about, framing, footwork, transfer, all that is just very, very good."
For Vazquez to be making such a throw in his first Major League game back since undergoing right elbow surgery just over a year ago was clear evidence that he's regained most of his arm strength.
"I'm close, I'm very close, like 95 percent, so it's getting there," Vazquez said. "Very close."
Vazquez's imprint was all over this game. He framed several pitches that were just off the plate for strikes.
"The more frustration they have works to our advantage," said Porcello.
"He's so good at receiving pitches, regardless of the velocity," Farrell said. "You see him stick pitches even with Kimbrel on the mound in the upper 90s. His hands are soft, they're strong at the same time to present pitches to the home-plate umpire I think very clearly. There might have been a number of times here tonight where that borderline pitch, he's able to give that presentation to get a called strike."
Although Vazquez's defense is what led the Red Sox to forego the rest of his Minor League assignment and summon him to Boston for Friday's game, he also came out swinging, getting two hits off the Green Monster, including a double in the second.
"I was feeling good," Vazquez said. "I was seeing the ball well and was aggressive at the plate."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com.