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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Jarrod Saltalamacchia eager for shot

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Yes, even at home in south Florida, between walking his dog and putting his little one down for a nap, Jarrod Saltalamacchia heard the news that Victor Martinez had struck a deal with the Detroit Tigers.

"It's everywhere," Saltalamacchia said by phone Tuesday night. "That's good, man. I texted him to congratulate him, but I guess he's probably pretty busy.

Saltalamacchia I'm happy and grateful that they believe I can be a solution at the position, that this is geared for me to become what they think I can become, what they've told me they think I can become.

-- Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia

"Obviously, [the Tigers] wanted that bat. I hope he gets a chance to catch because I know that's what he wants."

Martinez's departure from the Red Sox translates into a tremendous opportunity for Saltalamacchia, who figures to come into spring training with a chance to lay claim to the team's No. 1 catching spot.

The Sox intend to sign another veteran catcher to serve as a complement to Saltalamacchia, with Jason Varitek, who was not offered salary arbitration Tuesday, remaining a possibility. But general manager Theo Epstein declared last week that he was comfortable with the idea of Saltalamacchia carrying a major share of the catching load, and the willingness to be outbid by Detroit for Martinez underscores the depth of the team's commitment to the 25-year-old.

"You hear certain things and try to stay out of the papers as much as possible," Saltalamacchia said, "but you hear the stuff Theo says, and in talking to [catching instructor] Gary Tuck, you feel good to be appreciated by the organization and what they're saying to build your confidence up.

"Regardless, I'm going into spring training and prepare anyway to establish myself, work hard and be a part of this team. I really want to be a part of this team."

Saltalamacchia, who underwent surgery in late September to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, an injury that was bothering him before the Sox acquired him from the Texas Rangers at the trading deadline, will not be waiting for spring training to begin his preparation.

He said he has been cleared to begin baseball activity by the doctors in Boston and already has begun playing catch. He'll start swinging a bat in a couple of weeks -- he could do so now, but was advised not to rush it -- but most importantly, he is about to enroll in Tuck University.

Tuck, who lives in Indiana, plans to migrate to Vero Beach, Fla., about an hour and a half north of Saltalamacchia's home in Wellington, in the coming week. Saltalamacchia plans to spend the two months leading into spring training in an immersion course on catching with Tuck, whose input, the player believes, played a significant role in the team's decision to bet on his future. The two worked daily after Saltalamacchia arrived, and the catcher clearly made a positive impression.

Saltalamacchia doesn't believe Boston's commitment to him should be viewed as a risk, especially since he was Texas' Opening Day catcher each of the last two seasons.

"In 2009, I was the everyday catcher and felt I did a great job, handling the pitching staff well," he said. "My bat wasn't what I wanted it to be [.233 in 84 games], but I can handle it if I'm healthy, and there's no reason to believe I won't be healthy. I've had some freak injuries."

One of those injuries required surgery in 2009 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.

During his recovery from that injury, Saltalamacchia developed a serious problem throwing the ball back to the pitcher -- "Every other throw went over the pitcher's head or got away," one Rangers' official said. Saltalamacchia consulted with sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman to work through the issue, and he appears to have moved beyond it, evincing no sign of it during his time with the Red Sox.

"I'm happy and grateful that they believe I can be a solution at the position, that this is geared for me to become what they think I can become, what they've told me they think I can become," he said.

"Like they've said, I'm low risk, high reward."

Saltalamacchia turns 26 in March. That's the same age a rookie named Jason Varitek was when he broke camp with the Red Sox in 1998 as backup catcher to Scott Hatteberg. A year later, Varitek was the No. 1 catcher, beginning a run of more than a decade in that role before the Sox dealt for Martinez at the 2009 trading deadline.

"I'd love for Jason Varitek to come back and have the opportunity to work with him all year," Saltalamacchia said. "But everybody's got to do what they've got to do."

Saltalamacchia may not win the job outright in camp next spring, but the Sox clearly are prepared to give him every chance to develop into that role.

"What better time than now?" he said. "But enough talk, let's do it."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.