Kottaras ready to take on new job
Backstop to become personal catcher to knuckleballer Wakefield
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- One day after George Kottaras essentially won the battle for Boston's backup catching spot, he said, "It doesn't really change anything for me."
What Kottaras was referring to was the release of Josh Bard, who had been perceived in the public eye as the front-runner for the spot. In reality, however, that one transaction changed everything.
Instead of preparing to play another season in the Minor Leagues, Kottaras is now getting ready to embark on the job of being the personal catcher of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
There Kottaras was on Thursday, catching Wakefield on Field 3 of the Minor League complex in a Triple-A game.
"I was quite confident today," said Kottaras. "It was just one of those things where you have to be confident to do it, because if you don't, you start getting anxiety, and that's when you start feeling it."
Other men have felt it before. Wakefield's knuckleball is so hard to catch, it forced a solid veteran named John Flaherty into early retirement. It also prompted an early exit for Bard in his first stint with the Sox, back in 2006. Though the veteran did a far better job this time around, the Red Sox determined that it was time to hand the keys to the 25-year-old Kottaras, who is out of Minor League options.
Just as they did on March 14, at City of Palms Park against the Yankees, Wakefield and Kottaras looked to be a comfortable battery on Thursday. Wakefield pitched five shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three. It went so well that the duo had to go to the bullpen afterward so Wakefield could get up to his pitch count of 60.
"I'm very confident [in Kottaras]," said Wakefield. "I'm sad for Josh again. It's unfortunate, but that's the business of baseball sometimes. Josh did a great job, and I hope he catches on somewhere and continues his career. He's a true professional. He did everything right here. Just didn't happen.
"On the other side, Georgie did a tremendous job today. I have the utmost confidence in him that he'll be able to last all season long with me. I like throwing to him as well as I like throwing to Josh. I look forward to working with him some more."
Save for a cup of coffee with the Red Sox last September, Kottaras has never experienced the Major League life. And that's why he is not going to get ahead of himself in his quest to be on the Opening Day roster.
"It's a possibility. I just want to make it a reality," Kottaras said. "It's something I've been working hard for all my career, getting an opportunity, and I'm going to run with it. It's a big deal. I'm not going to take it lightly at all. I'm still going to work hard. I'm still going to be in the cages with [catching instructor] Gary [Tuck] and trying to get better."
The art of being a knuckleball catcher is something that Kottaras has worked hard at with Tuck all spring.
"I think it's just letting the ball get to you instead of trying to snatch it out of the air," said Kottaras. "We've been working on that, Tuck and I, and slowly but surely, we're going in the right direction."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.