Varitek has no worries
Advancing age, poor spring average doesn't affect catcher
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If you are someone who would rather look at a birth certificate than the actual person it belongs to, there was stock to be taken from the .082 average that Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek took into Friday's exhibition game against the Orioles.
So easy, isn't it, to say that catchers wear down in their mid-30s and Varitek, who turns 35 on April 11, is just going to be the latest victim?
Varitek will turn on that theory much like he ripped Erik Bedard's fifth-inning offering over the wall in dead center field for a solo homer. It was Varitek's first homer of Spring Training and the end of an 0-for-17 drought.
The captain of the Red Sox does not feel old. Not before the home run, and certainly not after it.
"That part of it, I think it's a myth," Varitek said of the supposed breakdown of catchers his age. "It depends on the person, on the human being. I look at it from this standpoint. I've been able this spring to put in more work and do more things than I've been able to handle in quite a few years."
To be fair, Varitek did give the breakdown theory some credence in 2006, when he had the worst season of his Major League life. His season shortened to 103 games by left knee surgery, Varitek hit .238 with 12 homers and 55 RBIs.
For Varitek, nothing about last year ever seemed right. His Spring Training routine was impacted by his participation in the World Baseball Classic. Right after that, Varitek strained his glute muscle and was hampered for several weeks. There were also mechanical adjustments that went awry. Then came the knee injury. Bust went the season.
Maybe it was age. But maybe it wasn't. Perhaps it was just the Murphy's Law type of season that could happen to anyone.
The bounce-back of Varitek does not seem to be anywhere close to manager Terry Francona's list of concerns.
"There's always going to be aspects of his game that are going to take away from him offensively," said Francona. "That's just part of it, and I would never change that in a million years, because of what he brings in all other areas, and how he catches and how he cares and how he runs a game. That's always going to get in the way somewhat, but he still can be a good offensive player."
Another theory that Varitek will gladly scratch is that his other responsibilities, of which there are plenty, take away from the time he has to work on his offense. Varitek would use that excuse if he could, but he knows better.
"We've spent a lot of time," said Varitek. "We were on the back field [Thursday] by ourselves and did a few things, and I've had competitive at-bats; the results will come."
The shot he struck off Bedard was perhaps a sneak preview of that.
"That was a pretty swing," said Francona. "We're always looking for positive signs with anybody, but that was a gorgeous swing right-handed -- it was short, quick and strong. Left-handed, he was on time, too, so that's good. He is taking so many extra swings and worked so hard that when it clicks, we'll be thrilled."
Varitek admits now that he out-thought himself last year at the plate. This year, he wants to go back to a more simplified approach that helped him rise to All-Star status in both 2003 and 2005.
"My best years were when I didn't worry so much mechanically," Varitek said. "I just competed with what I have. That's still going to have to happen. We've tried different things and we've come back with what seems to be most comfortable. The past couple of days, I've gotten more locked in with my approach."
If Varitek is getting old, it is certified news to him. This spring -- despite his batting average -- he feels invigorated.
"I'm in a much healthier state," Varitek said. "Last spring, I immediately tore my [glute muscle], and then I had to be in cruise control a little bit more and get prepared to play in the games.
"We've made some changes catching. [Catching instructor Gary] Tuck has done a great job, and I'm doing stuff better than I ever had. I've had a few changes and a lot of different things going on. It's been a very hard working, very productive spring. Maybe not results-wise, but we've gotten a lot accomplished."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.