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Thursday, September 13, 2012
Saltalamacchia a smash in return

By Gordon Edes

BOSTON -- Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who missed the previous four games with back spasms, was a smash in his return to the Boston Red Sox's lineup Wednesday night.

"Salty took a few days to make sure his back was fully healed," manager Bobby Valentine said. "[Tuesday] he felt good enough to play. The training room wanted to give him one more day. Today's one more day. It's good. I think Salty's going to finish strong. We get his bat in the lineup, I feel like he's going to help us win some games."

Saltalamacchia rewarded Valentine's confidence with a walk, triple, double and ninth-inning home run, his 24th of the season, in what was easily his best game while battling a slump that has gone on for the past three months.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was 3-for-3 with a double, triple, home run and a walk Wednesday.
"I wasn't trying to do too much," Saltalamacchia said. "I think because of the back I wasn't trying to overswing, but I felt comfortable. I was staying in on balls, I wasn't trying to pull anything, and I felt pretty good."

On June 9, the switch-hitting catcher was batting .273 with 11 home runs and 11 doubles. His on-base percentage was .317 and he was slugging .567, for an OPS of .883.

In 59 games since then before Wednesday night, Saltalamacchia was batting just .190, with a .263 OBP and .380 SLG. He had 12 home runs in that span, but just three doubles, and struck out almost twice as many times (77) as he hit safely (39).

His overall offensive performance this season entering Wednesday night was strikingly similar to his performance last season:

Season PA Hits AVG HR RBI OBP SLG OPS SO Walks
2011 -- 386 84 .235 16 56 .288 .450 .737 119 24
2012 -- 389 80 .225 23 53 .285 .459 .745 119 30

At 27, such back-to-back seasons suggest that what the Sox see is what they will get with Saltalamacchia, raising the question of how committed they are to him as their catcher of the foreseeable future. Factoring into that decision is how the club views his role in the subpar performance of the pitching staff. The pitchers have an ERA of 4.83 with Salty behind the plate, compared to the 3.77 posted by Kelly Shoppach.

But as recently as last week, one source said, the team indicated to Saltalamacchia that he remains very much in their plans for 2013. And manager Bobby Valentine lavished praise on the catcher Wednesday night.

"His back was a little tight after he tripled but he stayed in there and played great," Valentine said. "I think Salty's had a really good year for us, totally unappreciated by some. He's done a very good job most of the season. And a walk, double, triple and home run, pretty good."

With Ryan Lavarnway also struggling offensively (.161) in his first extended taste of big league action, catching could be an area in which GM Ben Cherington decides he needs reinforcements, although he could chalk it up to an off-year all around and give both catchers a chance to start fresh in 2013.

"We've been battling the past three months as well," Saltalamacchia said of the ballclub. "We're trying to win games, so personal accomplishments kind of go out the window. I'm not trying to do too much. The past three or four days, I was out, it might have helped me recuperate a little bit with my body, and I felt stronger.

"Personally, if I finish the season doing well, it will feel good but one guy can't win all the games. I think it would be better if the team went into the offseason feeling good about where we're at and win some games."

ESPNBoston.com intern Bill Humphrey contributed to this report.