Cash-ing in on backup job
Backstop, who replaces Mirabelli, will catch Wakefield
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Kevin Cash still remembers the first inning he was entrusted with catching Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. It didn't drive him into retirement as was the case with John Flaherty a couple of springs ago, but it wasn't exactly an enjoyable experience either.
Under the roof of Tropicana Field against the Rays on Aug. 20 of last season, Cash was breaking a serious sweat. Catching instructor Gary Tuck and catcher Jason Varitek might have saved Cash's night with a simple phone call from about 400 feet away.
"In the bullpen, I caught him really well, and then the game started and in the first inning it was just a debacle," Cash said. "A couple of people, Tuck and Varitek, called down from the 'pen and said, 'Relax,' and I kind of changed a couple of things, and kind of took off from there."
And in hindsight, that night was when Cash officially started taking off to where he landed on Thursday -- the new backup catcher of the Boston Red Sox.
Not only did Cash catch seven shutout innings from Wakefield that night, but he did so again five days later in Chicago.
This isn't to say that Cash will be as equipped as Doug Mirabelli at handling the knuckleball. The veteran, who was released on Thursday, had a rare knack for doing that.
But once Cash showed he was capable of handling the tricky pitch, it opened the eyes of the Red Sox. And in the overall scheme of things, Boston feels he is better suited at this stage to be the backup catcher than Mirabelli, who served the role for six seasons.
Unlike Mirabelli, who carved out a niche and maintained steady work for many years, Cash has bounced around between the Minors and Majors and from organization to organization.
Needless to say, winning this job was a gratifying feat for a man who last broke camp with a Major League team in 2004, when he was with the Blue Jays.
"I'm ecstatic," Cash said. "Yesterday, it was a tough day. You never want to see a friend get disappointed, and it was disappointing for a lot of people in the clubhouse just because of the presence [Mirabelli] had. At the same time, I have to look at it as an opportunity for myself. Hopefully I'll do a good job for this club."
Cash, who is 30, is verification that hard work can pay dividends, even if it takes a while.
The Red Sox re-signed Cash to a Minor League deal over the offseason and then re-upped with Mirabelli on a Major League contract shortly there after.
"I think when he signed, in my mind, I definitely thought he had the upper hand," Cash said. "But at the same time, when I came into camp, I was told to come in and have a good spring, and we'll see where it takes us. It was nice to hear that the door wasn't completely shut."
With the door opened just a crack, Cash broke it open with hard work.
"He's done a great job," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "To put himself in that situation where we thought enough of him to do that says a lot about him -- a lot."
Though the decision of Cash over Mirabelli was based solely on defense, Cash hopes he can improve upon his .167 career average and give the Red Sox somewhat of a threat at the plate.
He began working with hitting coach Dave Magadan late last season and the sessions continued even in the winter. Both Cash and Magadan live in the Tampa area.
"That's kind of a credit to [Magadan], you've got a guy who was a 15-year veteran, that's probably the last thing he wants to do is go hit with a guy," said Cash. "He was awesome."
Earlier this week, Cash crushed a home run to left-center in an exhibition game against the Twins.
What specific things has he been working on at the plate?
"I think we worked really on a swing path," said Cash. "Giving myself more of a chance in the strike zone, that was the biggest thing. I was kind of the guy that got the barrel there and had one opportunity to hit the ball, and if I wasn't timed up perfectly, I was going to struggle. Now we've worked on kind of staying through the zone longer."
As for his primary job -- catching Wakefield -- Cash will tackle that on Sunday afternoon when the battery works together in a Minor League game.
"I'm excited," Cash said. "I am comfortable with him. I caught his side early in camp and I caught him [Thursday]."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.