Red Sox activate Vazquez, option Swihart

Boston also recalls infielder Hernandez from Triple-A Pawtucket

April 14th, 2016
Christian Vazquez missed the entire 2015 season because of Tommy John surgery. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

BOSTON -- The Red Sox turned the starting catching job back over to Christian Vazquez on Friday, activating him from the disabled list while optioning Blake Swihart to Triple-A Pawtucket.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager John Farrell both expressed hope that in the future, Vazquez and Swihart can complement each other on the same roster.

In an effort to get to that point, Swihart will try to learn how to play left field during his stint at Triple-A. He will still spend most of his time behind the plate for Pawtucket, but the versatility to play another position would make Swihart more functional with the Red Sox.

"There were a lot of conversations on that situation," Dombrowski said. "Very difficult decision because of how much we like Blake and how good a player we think he is. We emphasized that to him when we talked. We've thought about, 'Should we carry three catchers or not?' A lot of people were involved in the decision, really the whole staff."

Ryan Hanigan will continue to serve as the backup catcher. In another roster move, the Red Sox recalled utility infielder Marco Hernandez from Pawtucket to take the spot vacated when outfielder Rusney Castillo was optioned after Wednesday's game.

Vazquez was first called up to the Major Leagues in July 2014 and was Boston's primary catcher for the remainder of that season. He was projected to hold down that role last year as well, but he missed all of '15 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Swihart was thrust into the Major Leagues earlier than expected last year after the injury not only to Vazquez, but also to Hanigan. The switch-hitter swung a hot bat for the final two months of last season.

The Red Sox have struggled from the mound coming out of the gate, posting a 5.40 ERA entering Friday's game. One of Vazquez's strengths is his ability to work well with pitchers, and he also has a strong arm and excellent receiving skills.

The 24-year-old Swihart hit .278 with one RBI in six games this year. He misplayed a couple of popups, and he has had some difficulty blocking balls in the dirt. Vazquez began a Minor League rehab assignment for Pawtucket last weekend and hit .462 (6-for-13) with a double in five games.

"The one thing that Vazquez has shown when he came up for the half-year in '14, he's got a natural ability to connect with pitchers to get the most out of them, to run a game," Farrell said. "We saw him take timely trips to the mound. He's got abilities. We know he can be a shutdown thrower from a defensive standpoint. I just think for running a game, he's got a natural feel to do what I just mentioned."

The Red Sox want Swihart to continue catching because, as Dombrowski put it, he "is just a foul tip away" from coming back to Boston.

For a while, there has been debate over whether Vazquez or Swihart would be the team's catcher of the future.

"As we look toward the future and even as time goes on, we would like Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart to both be part of our club," Dombrowski said. "And they're both not going to be everyday catchers with our team. [Blake's] more athletic. He's a converted catcher. We think he can make a conversion to another position, even on a part-time basis, so we can keep his bat in the lineup."

Before playing the outfield in games, Swihart will get on-field instruction with the staff at Pawtucket.

"We think that's more fair to do that down in Triple-A than just put him in at the big league level and say, 'Here you go', so he's also going to start working on that," Dombrowski said. "We're not going to put him right in left field to play. We're going to start hitting him some fly balls. We think he'll be able to make the conversion while continuing to catch and DH. He'll be in the lineup every day, and we think that's more beneficial for him at this stage of his career than it would be playing on a periodic basis here."

When Swihart sensed in Spring Training that Vazquez was making a strong recovery from surgery, he asked Farrell how that would impact him. Farrell suggested to Swihart that he might want to gain some comfort in left field. At that time, and again on Friday, Swihart expressed a selfless attitude and said he would do whatever was best for the team.

Although position switches haven't always been easy for catchers, the Red Sox are confident Swihart can add left field to his repertoire.

"His athleticism will take over," said Farrell. "He and I had a couple conversations in Spring Training about this. He would shag in left field during BP. We've come to know Blake not only as an upfront guy, but a smart, athletic player who's going to be committed to the work."