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Swihart building case for backup catcher role

@IanMBrowne
March 13, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Within the next two weeks, the Red Sox will trade one of their three catchers. But Blake Swihart doesn’t have time to worry about whether he might be the one to go. Perhaps that’s because he is too busy hitting.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Within the next two weeks, the Red Sox will trade one of their three catchers.

But Blake Swihart doesn’t have time to worry about whether he might be the one to go. Perhaps that’s because he is too busy hitting.

Swihart banged out two doubles in Wednesday’s 9-5 loss to the Twins to raise his Grapefruit League average to .412 in 17 at-bats. The sample size is small, but Swihart can only maximize the chances he gets.

“I feel good, and I’m just going at it each at-bat at a time and try not to waste anything,” he said.

The switch-hitting Swihart’s second double was a towering shot off the replica Green Monster that just missed being a homer. It was noteworthy because it came from the right side of the plate.

“It felt really good. I wish it could have gone about 3 feet higher, but it worked,” Swihart said. “I did a lot more right-handed swings than normal in the offseason because I didn’t get many right-handed at-bats last year [61, vs. 131 as a lefty]. Just trying to stay consistent and stay ready.”

Off the field, it hasn’t been an easy spring for Swihart, who learned two weeks ago that his 23-year-old brother died suddenly. Perhaps baseball is an escape for Swihart, who is enjoying his time on the field.

“Good swings,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We're trying to get him as many repetitions behind the plate, and he did a good job today blocking balls. That was a nice play on the swinging bunt, you can see how athletic he is, just like Christian [Vazquez] yesterday, they made those plays very easy. But the at-bats have been good, he missed a little time, we know everything he went through, but he's having fun right now playing the game.”

Swihart caught the first six innings and worked well with starter Nathan Eovaldi, who limited the Twins to a run over three innings.

If the Red Sox choose to stick with Swihart instead of Sandy Leon or Vazquez, they will have to be as comfortable with his catching as his bat.

“I feel good back there, comfortable, and just the more we get back there, the better,” Swihart said.

With the Red Sox spending the next two days in Lakeland and Tampa, Swihart and Leon will both be on the trip. Vazquez staying back in Fort Myers could be a signal that the Red Sox are comfortable enough with him to know he will break camp with the club.

If the other two catchers are still under constant evaluation, Swihart isn’t worried about it.

“I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “I’m just going out there having fun playing baseball. Just got to keep going. I don’t think about it ever.”

J.D. a late scratch
Star slugger J.D. Martinez was supposed to start Wednesday’s game against the Twins in left field but was scratched with minor back soreness.

"J.D., just a tight back,” Cora said. “We’re not going to take a chance. He wasn’t going to play [Thursday] anyway, so he’ll come here, get treatment and see how he feels. The plan was for him to go to Tampa and play the outfield [on Friday]. So we’ll most likely keep him here. If he’s OK to play, probably get at-bats on the Minor League side. There’s no need to rush him.”

Brasier close to game action
Righty reliever Ryan Brasier, who has been slowed in camp by an infection in his right pinkie toe, took a significant step on Wednesday when he threw live batting practice.

“It felt good,” Brasier said. “A little different than just a regular bullpen. A couple of things I’ve still got to work on, but for the most part, I’m ready go go.”

Brasier, who is projected to be one of the team’s highest-leverage relievers and could even close, should pitch in a game by this weekend.

Up next
While the other four members of the rotation are making their first starts this week, lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will be taking the ball for the fourth time when he faces the Tigers in Lakeland on Thursday. Reliever Heath Hembree, a key part of the setup crew, will make his debut this spring after missing some time on paternity leave. Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Swihart and Leon will be in the lineup. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.