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Sunday, February 20, 2011
The captain holds court

By Joe McDonald

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek held court for more than 20 minutes this afternoon, talking about his career, his role, his fellow catchers and his future.

The captain returns for his 14th full season with the Red Sox and says his body feels the best it has in a few years. His reduced playing time the last couple of seasons is the main reason for his health, and he was able to begin his offseason workouts sooner than usual.

During Sunday’s live batting practice session, Varitek caught veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. The plan is for the pair to work together during camp.

Varitek is impressed with fellow catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Varitek
Jason Varitek is quite impressed with the talent and work ethic of fellow catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
“He’s extremely talented,” Varitek said. “I don’t know if I had those abilities he has when I was that young and broke in. His work ethic and the things he has displayed is why we’ve had an easy bond right away.”

Varitek addressed how important the starting rotation will be this season, especially the way the bullpen is set up.

“Our focal point is getting our starting pitching on track and good because if we’re able to do that, we’ve got a chance to have a really good bullpen. Our starting staff has to be better than we were last year.”

A key part of that rotation will be the continued success and development of right-hander Clay Buchholz.

“He’s had the stuff since the first day he got called up,” Varitek said. “He’s gone through good, bad, indifferent and he’s learned himself. He and [Jon] Lester are still not as good as they’re going to be, but they’re real good where they’re at.”

Varitek also talked about the importance of closer Jonathan Papelbon.

“We have a tendency to overlook how much he did for us earlier in the year [last season]. We asked him to come into the eighth inning, and then pitch the ninth in April and May. He allowed us to be where we were midseason before everything fell apart with injuries. We asked him to do a lot more with the way things were set up than we normally would.”

Varitek likes the addition of Bobby Jenks to the 'pen.

“Bobby is one of those guys, hitting left-handed off him, looked like he threw the ball out of the way and you didn’t know where the hole came from,” Varitek explained. “You can see he’s got some deception when you catch him. He’s one of the first guys in the league that pitched with control at 96, 98 miles an hour. It gives us some extra added depth to our bullpen, which we strongly needed.”

Varitek said the team has a lot of work to do.

“Some of the changes we made have put us in a competitive spot,” he said. “We were shortchanged by the end of last year, even once we got healthy. We did some things to allow this team to be competitive, and now we need to put in the work.”

As far as his career, Varitek said he’s taking it a season at a time now and he’s only focused on 2011.

“I can tell you after this one,” he said. “If I feel as good as I do now throughout the year, it’s good.”