Notes: Staff shakeup impacts catchers
Francona must find opportunities to rest Varitek, play Mirabelli
SEATTLE -- For the better part of three years, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has had a most simple formula when it comes to his catchers. Doug Mirabelli catches the elusive knuckleballs of Tim Wakefield, and Jason Varitek catches everyone else.
With Wakefield, who was officially placed on the disabled list before Saturday's game, out of the mix for the next few weeks, Francona is going to have to look for different reasons to rest Varitek, his workhorse captain.
Less than 48 hours removed from a flight out West, and with Saturday's afternoon tilt coming so quickly after Friday's game, Francona inserted Mirabelli into the lineup and gave Varitek a breather.
"I try to make out the lineup and see who's pitching for them and who's pitching for us, look at the day-night, travel," said Francona. "A big thing, though, when I sit 'Tek now, as opposed to when Wake is pitching, is -- I don't want to say health, but energy. If we're going to sit 'Tek, I want it to help him, physically. That's probably the No. 1 factor.
"[A] day game after a night game after flying to the West Coast, to me, seems like the best time to do it, and I think he agrees. It's never been an option before, because Wake's been here. Since he's not pitching right now, that will be the number one priority. Especially as you get into July and August, it's probably the No. 1 thing of importance."
That meant that Mirabelli was entrusted to handle the Major League debut of left-hander Kason Gabbard. The Red Sox are fortunate in that they have two veteran catchers who can serve as mentors for young pitchers.
"The best thing he can do -- and Dougie is great at this -- is go up and explain what [he's] going to do, not overwhelm him," Francona said. "Dougie's a pretty good used-car salesman, which you've got to be as a catcher. He won't overwhelm him. He'll just say, 'This is what we've got to do; let's go do it.' But what's good and what I appreciate -- and our catchers do this really well -- they don't 'big-league' the young guys."
Mirabelli, who entered the day hitting .200 with three homers and 14 RBIs since rejoining the Red Sox on May 1, has shown signs of coming to life, offensively.
"The one thing he always has in him is, if you make a mistake, he can hit that three-run homer," Francona said. "He worked hard, and it looks like it's starting to pay off a little bit."
Balancing the lineup: In part to give Mark Loretta a day off and also in an effort go give Boston another lefty against Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez, Alex Cora made the start at second base and batted second. Leadoff man Kevin Youkilis also got the day off, replaced at first base by David Ortiz and at the top of the lineup by Coco Crisp. Manny Ramirez moved to designated hitter for the second day in a row, and Wily Mo Pena started in left field.
"Youkilis is banged up and tired; he needed a day," Francona said. "We've got a pitcher -- his splits are so different and 'Tek's not playing. We're trying to get some balance in the order with left- and right-handers. We'll put Wily Mo in left and hope he runs into a fastball. [We're] just trying to get some balance. We're keeping everybody playing. Hopefully, we keep everybody sharp and, at the same time, people contribute and we win."
Home runs a road thing: In one of those statistical oddities that there is probably no rhyme or reason to, the Red Sox have been a far more powerful team on the road this season than at home.
Boston has crushed 81 homers in 50 road games (1.62 per game) compared to 43 in 45 home games (0.96 per game).
"I think it's a quirk. I don't have an answer," Francona said. "It just happens. I know we're a more comfortable team at home."
Ortiz has bashed 22 of his 33 home runs on the road. Ramirez has slightly more pop on the road (15 homers) than at Fenway (11). Mike Lowell has twice as many homers (eight) on the road than at home (four). Trot Nixon has clubbed five of his six homers on the road. Varitek is the most dramatic case, with nine of his 10 homers coming in away games.
Wakefield's program: Wakefield is taking the weekend off, as he battles back from a stress fracture in his rib cage, but will go back to work on Monday.
"He'll go in with [rehabilitation coordinator] Scott Waugh," Francona said. "I think he's going to get in some water. [He'll] try to move around a little bit. The No. 1 thing is for him to have range of motion without pain."
Heard it through the grapevine: Lowell was not at all preoccupied with recent rumors that the Red Sox had talked of dealing him to the Padres for right-hander Jake Peavy.
While general manager Theo Epstein completely shot down the rumors to reporters on Friday, Lowell was also given firm assurance from the club that the reports weren't accurate.
"Tito [Francona] did talk to me yesterday and told me that Theo said there was no truth to it whatsoever, so that's coming from the boss. That's good, because I'd probably recommend Theo do it," deadpanned Lowell. "He's a 25-year-old right-hander who's a potential ace. I love the trade deadline. I don't know if it's coming up through the Yankee system where, once you became a prospect, you were linked to every single trade known to mankind. I was linked to trades in '03 and last year. It was like a downgrade from all the trades I was involved with in the Minor Leagues. I was traded like 50 times."
Coming up: Left-hander Jon Lester, the pride of Tacoma, Wash., will pitch on Sunday against the team he idolized as a kid. Lester (5-0, 2.38) will be opposed by fellow left-hander Jarrod Washburn (4-10, 4.41).
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.