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TORONTO -- A day the Boston Red Sox have long envisioned has arrived: Jarrod Saltalamacchia being fitted for a Sox uniform. Equipment manager Joe Cochran deserves a bonus for stitching the longest surname in baseball history (14 letters) on the back of his jersey.
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia (left) made his Red Sox debut Wednesday, entering in the eighth inning and sticking around till the end of a 10-1 win.|
Saltalamacchia, who arrived here Wednesday after being called up from Triple-A Pawtucket, made his Red Sox debut in the eighth inning of Boston's 10-1 rout over the Blue Jays. He is likely to start behind the plate Thursday afternoon, with Victor Martinez playing first. Backup catcher Kevin Cash was placed on the disabled list with what was called a strained left hamstring, though manager Terry Francona acknowledged that move was made mostly for precautionary reasons.
"We'll see what happens tonight," Francona said, reserving his prerogative to change his mind about Saltalamacchia getting the start, although it's likely the Sox would like to give Martinez a break behind the plate.
"This is a kid, his name has come up the last two years. It's pretty exciting. Hopefully for the short term it'll be real exciting, but I hope long term too. We haven't seen him play, but we've gotten really good reports from our player development people, and they're usually right on the money."
The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia, 25, has long been on the Sox radar, but it wasn't until Boston agreed on July 31 to send two minor league prospects, a player to be named and cash to the Rangers that Theo Epstein was able to get his man.
Saltalamacchia's stock has dropped since he was considered the key player Texas received from Atlanta in a seven-player deal for Mark Teixeira in 2007. He played parts of three seasons for the Rangers, didn't hit the way they'd hoped, got hurt, and developed a problem making throws back to the pitcher.
He was the Rangers' catcher on Opening Day, hurt his back, had a nerve-block injection, went out on rehab assignment, and never got the call back, the Rangers keeping him in the minors instead.
"It was one of those things. If anything could go wrong, it did," said Saltalamacchia, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, has curly hair and sports a trim beard. "I got injured, didn't know how to deal with it, tried to play through it, and made it worse. I did a lot of growing up. It was a tough situation for me. But like I said, it's in the past and I'm ready to move on."
Saltalamacchia underwent surgery last Sept. 21 to correct complications stemming from thoracic outlet syndrome, described on the Mayo Clinic website as a group of disorders that occur when the blood vessels or nerves in the thoracic outlet -- the space between the collarbone and first rib -- become compressed. This can cause pain in the shoulders and neck and numbness in the fingers.
Saltalamacchia had an impinged rib removed from near his right shoulder to alleviate the condition, but during his recovery developed throwing issues. ESPNBoston's Joe McDonald reported that Saltalamacchia sought help from, among others, sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, who is a consultant for agent Scott Boras.
The Red Sox have seen no evidence of the problem. With Pawtucket, Saltalamacchia threw out two of the three baserunners attempting to steal against him and had no trouble delivering the ball to the pitcher. He says it's a non-issue.
"It's been good for about four or five months now," he said Wednesday. "It's a big step and I had to get over it. It's something I did. I got over it and I'm ready to go."
Francona refused to answer any questions related to Saltalamacchia's throwing issues, and did not acknowledge that there had been a problem.
"I can't I'm not going to talk [about that]," Francona said when asked if he'd ever dealt with a player with a similar problem as a coach or manager. "I don't know if he'll ever say that. I've seen guys like that before, but I've never had a conversation about it. None. I'm not going to do it with you guys."
In his last game with Pawtucket, Tuesday night in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Saltalamacchia played first base, a position he had not played since starting 24 games there for the Rangers in 2007. He had never before played the position in the minors, but handled eight chances cleanly Tuesday night. He also batted cleanup and had two hits, including an RBI double.
"Actually, I was surprised, I felt pretty good," he said. "For not playing there in three years, I was comfortable. I felt like it was something I've been doing."
Francona potentially has the option of using Saltalamacchia at first base as a left-handed hitting complement to Lowell, or as a fill-in in games in which Francona lifts Lowell for a pinch runner.
"A switch-hitter with power, he can go over there," Francona said. "I don't know if that's fair to him. We'll have Bogie [infield coach Tim Bogar] work with him a little bit, see how that goes."
Saltalamacchia said he'd be willing to play either position, wherever the Sox need help, and is confident that he could be an everyday player at either position.
Saltalamacchia learned about his call-up around 2:30 a.m., after the PawSox arrived by bus in Allentown, Pa., from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. For the ride, he wore a special sweater, acquired by Pawtucket pitcher Chad Paronto, awarded in the clubhouse to the player deemed the star of the game.
"It's a sweater he made, bought in a convenience store," Saltalamacchia said, momentariliy abashed by the sweater's notoriety. "It says 'Meowy Christmas.' [PawSox pitcher] Rich Hill loves cats, but we decided to make it a team thing. The first night Rich Hill won it, which was good. Last night it was me. I was very excited, thrilled."
The excitement is genuine when he contemplates his new attire, the one that buttons down the front and says "Boston."
"I'm really excited to get the opportunity to remake myself," he said. "I had some bad years with Texas. It's all on me. It's one of those things I have to go out and prove myself. I didn't quite do what I know I'm capable of doing. I have the chance to do it here."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.