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Vazquez targets top role behind the plate

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Though Christian Vazquez thrived while sharing the Red Sox's catching duties with Sandy Leon in 2017, he has a clear mission heading into next season: Vazquez wants to be the main guy going forward.

"I think I like to play," Vazquez said from Orlando, Fla., where he is training this offseason. "I don't like to be on the bench. That's something I'm looking at. I think I'd like to test my skills to play more than 100 games. That's the goal this year, and get back to October -- that's all."

BOSTON -- Though Christian Vazquez thrived while sharing the Red Sox's catching duties with Sandy Leon in 2017, he has a clear mission heading into next season: Vazquez wants to be the main guy going forward.

"I think I like to play," Vazquez said from Orlando, Fla., where he is training this offseason. "I don't like to be on the bench. That's something I'm looking at. I think I'd like to test my skills to play more than 100 games. That's the goal this year, and get back to October -- that's all."

Vazquez started 85 games behind the plate last season, and Leon caught the other 77.

If the 27-year-old Vazquez is as productive this offseason as he hopes to be, he will achieve his mission of being behind the plate on Opening Day at Tropicana Field, which is set for March 29.

"That's the goal," said Vazquez. "I'm working on that and getting my body ready for that, and that's where I'm trying to get."

In the final couple of years of manager John Farrell's tenure with the Red Sox, he believed that a catching tandem was most effective, given the rigors of the position. But things could change with Alex Cora taking over as manager. If Cora opts to go in the more traditional direction of having a true No. 1 catcher, he would have the support of president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"I don't know that there's a right answer or a wrong answer, but I do like having a No. 1 catcher, personally," said Dombrowski.

Vazquez came into the 2017 season at a little bit of a crossroads. The previous season had been a tough one, coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Vazquez played only 56 games for the Red Sox, spending the rest of the campaign in the Minors.

It turned out that Vazquez's body just needed more time to recover. Out of Minor League options, he made the roster out of Spring Training and proved that his cannon arm was back. Vazquez also made some solid contributions offensively, hitting .290 with five homers and 32 RBIs.

Video: TOR@BOS: Vazquez nabs Maile at second in the 6th

"I felt great this year," Vazquez said. "I think that year after Tommy John, I needed time to get my body back and get my skills back."

As a defender, Vazquez is already sound in every way. But there is one aspect he is still working on, and it could be the determining factor in how much he catches next season.

"I think calling games," said Vazquez. "I'm always trying to get better at that. You never stop learning. Every game you learn from the pitchers and the pitching coach. That never stops."

After serving as a spectator during the 2016 postseason, the opportunity to catch two games in the American League Division Series in '17 was vital for Vazquez.

"It was fun. One thing, I think, is that it was so loud with the fans and I think that was a great experience in my career playing in those games," Vazquez said. "Every pitch matters in the playoffs."

The Red Sox lost that series to the Astros, who had Cora as the bench coach, in four games

Vazquez now looks forward to playing under Cora, a fellow native of Puerto Rico.

"I talked to him [recently], I like him, he's a great person," said Vazquez. "I've met him before in Puerto Rico. It's very good to have him in Boston."

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Boston Red Sox, Christian Vazquez