Varitek works diligently to solve slump
Catcher hopes extra reps with hitting coach will lead to results
ST. PETERSBURG -- Though it was an off-day for Jason Varitek, the veteran catcher was drenched in sweat when he returned to his locker roughly an hour and 45 minutes before Tuesday night's game against the Rays.
Though Varitek's top priority is calling a game and handling his pitchers, by no means does he take a hitting slump lightly. The one Varitek is mired in right now is arguably the worst of his career.
The fact that Tim Wakefield was pitching and Kevin Cash was catching didn't make it a day of rest and relaxation for the captain. It meant there was time for him to take more swings in the cage under the watchful eye of hitting coach Dave Magadan.
"It's going to come," said Varitek. "It's been the worst rut of my career, but I'll figure it out."
Since coming back from a bout with strep throat on June 15, Varitek has just three hits in his past 42 at-bats. But the slump goes back well before the illness.
In a 28-game stretch that began on May 24, Varitek is 12-for-96, which registers at a .125 clip. From that time, Varitek's average has dipped from .295 to .222.
Following Monday's loss -- as other players showered, dressed and left -- Varitek lingered for nearly an hour at his locker, conversing with Magadan.
A day later, Varitek was hardly moping. If anything, there was a resolve to find the answers.
"Obviously, things haven't been too good, so I'm just trying to work and get things to where I get to where I need to be," Varitek said. "I've just got to keep getting after it and try to figure it out."
According to Magadan, Varitek's problems over the past 10 days or so have stemmed from getting used to some mechanical changes that the switch-hitter has made from the left side.
"I want to say, it was about a week ago," Magadan said. "He's always tapped left-handed. Tap, stride, tap, stride. So we eliminated that, because he just didn't feel comfortable doing it any more. So he's been kind of battling through the comfort level of doing this new thing and not worrying so much about what he's doing physically, and he's not been able to focus on the baseball, so his pitch selection has suffered."
As a former Major Leaguer himself, Magadan can sense exactly what Varitek is going through.
"It's just a matter of, when he starts to feel comfortable doing what he's doing with his body and he can now refocus on the baseball, is when I think he's going to turn the corner," Magadan said. "It's probably about a week and a half ago he started doing it."
Would Varitek consider going back to the tap-and-stride approach? Magadan doesn't think that would solve the problem.
"When he tried this last year, he tried it for maybe 10 days, but then went back to the tap," said Magadan. "But he's very comfortable with it in batting practice. It's just a matter with getting comfortable with it in the game. I think once he does that, he'll be fine. It's a simpler approach mechanically. He's been so used to doing the tap and the stride, tap and the stride, that he's just got to get a comfort level with just doing a regular stride and separation and putting a swing on the ball."
The reason the Red Sox worry less about Varitek when he's going through a slump than other players in the same boat is because of all the other things he contributes to a winning cause.
"I think he's frustrated, which, I think, comes with the territory," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "You go through a time at the plate where you get a little frustrated. I think he feels there's some pitches he should hit that he hasn't gotten to. Last night, his last at-bat, he just missed. I think he's a little tired. He did a lot of catching after he came back from being sick. I don't think that's helped.
"But I come back to the one thing -- when we win, you'll see him come off the field shaking hands. You'll never know how many hits he got. We can win when he doesn't hit."
In the meantime, Varitek will keep working behind the scenes with Magadan in search of some answers.
"I think what he gets frustrated with is not getting the results in the game," Magadan said. "I see improvement, but he wants results, which all hitters want. They want results. I think it's just a matter of time. It will come."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.