Vázquez '99 percent' sure of readiness

E-Rod throws bullpen session; Houck shuts down Braves

March 29th, 2021

Four days after being belted under his left eye by a thrown ball during a team drill, Red Sox catcher was left with a visual reminder of the scary incident.

“You like my scar?” Vázquez said during the opening of a Zoom call.

Bruised but unbowed, Vázquez expressed a “99 percent” vow to be in the lineup on Thursday, when the Red Sox open their 2021 season at Fenway Park against the Orioles.

The team’s medical staff will be working with Vázquez right up until then to get him ready.

“They’re going to take off the stitches before the game on Thursday and put in butterfly stitches,” said Vázquez. “But my wife likes [the scar], so we’re good.”

Vázquez had a productive day on Monday, catching ace lefty Eduardo Rodriguez in a bullpen session and then tracking pitches at the plate in a “B” game against the Twins.

“I hit today in the cage. I went to the 'B' game today to track some pitchers. I didn’t swing today in a game. I hope tomorrow I can swing here,” Vázquez said. “I caught a bullpen today, and it’s not bothering me, so I’m 99 percent sure I can go on Thursday.”

What exactly happened?

“We were doing a [pitchers’ fielding practice drill] on Field 3. The pitcher was throwing the ball to home and I was watching first, I was talking about something at first base,” Vázquez said. “[Hirokazu] Sawamura threw the ball and hit me. I saw the ball right here in my face and it knocked me down to the floor.”

Everything is now a lot better than it seemed then for Boston’s starting catcher.

“I’m doing good. You can see [the scar], that’s the only thing. I’m not worrying about sweating,” Vázquez said. “I was worried about my eye. But my eye is good. I can see perfect. I’m going to have an appointment Wednesday with my eye doctor and get ready for Opening Day.”

E-Rod back on the bump
For the second time in three days, Rodriguez threw a bullpen session. This level of activity was noteworthy, considering that manager Alex Cora announced on Friday that the lefty would not take the ball on Opening Day due to experiencing arm fatigue in his most recent Spring Training start.

“He looked good. The ball was coming firm, good. It looked good. All the pitches were good,” said Vázquez.

However, Cora is still going to be cautious with Rodriguez and it seems likely he will miss the first turn through the rotation. The conservative approach with Rodriguez is understandable when you consider he didn’t throw a pitch in 2020 due to myocarditis.

“One thing’s for sure, we're running out of time,” said Cora. “He's not going to be able to face hitters in a game situation [before camp ends]. We're going to be smart with him. Let's see how he feels after this one, and we'll make decisions accordingly. He's an important part of what we're trying to accomplish, and for what he went through last year, his body, the testing that we do after bullpens and the next day will dictate what we do in the near future. We're comfortable that this is something that's not going to take long, but we just have to be smart with it.”

Houck lights out
Though was optioned to the alternate site earlier in camp, he turned in a lights-out performance against the Braves, allowing two hits while striking out six over 4 1/3 innings.

Boston’s No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, could be in line for an early-season start, depending on how long Rodriguez is out for.

The Red Sox will need a fifth starter by April 7 against the Rays.

“I mean, obviously he's an option,” said Cora.” We know what's going on and as far as Eduardo, where we're gonna go with him and all that stuff, so there's a chance he can be part of this.”

Houck said he is up for the challenge if Cora calls on him. The righty was brilliant in three starts at the end of last season.

“Absolutely. I feel like my body is in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” said Houck. “I feel mentally, I’m stronger than I ever have been. Those are the two things that lead to a lot of success.”

Up next
The Red Sox will send lefty Martín Pérez to the mound for their final game of Spring Training on Tuesday afternoon against the Braves. Cora will mix up his outfield alignment by starting Alex Verdugo in left field. Verdugo had played only center and right thus far in camp. Kiké Hernández will play center and Hunter Renfroe will get the nod in right. First pitch at JetBlue Park is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.