x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Varitek should have kept toe tap

Out of the line-up again last night, Jason Varitek's batting average sits at .212, its lowest since April 14, a week into the season.

Out of the line-up again last night, Jason Varitek's batting average sits at .212, its lowest since April 14, a week into the season. Varitek's playing time has been greatly reduced since the arrival of Victor Martinez and there was thought that the additional time off might help Varitek avoid the second-half drop-off that marked his last several seasons. Instead, the idle time seemed to have hurt Varitek more than helped him. Since July 31, the day on which the Sox obtained Martinez from Cleveland, Varitek is hitting just .123 (10-for-81) with a single home run and only seven RBI. The numbers are worse from the left side, where Varitek is hitting .207 for the season against right-handed pitchers.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan worked with Varitek at spring training to simplify his approach at the plate. At Magadan's urging, Varitek eliminated the toe tap that was part of his timing mechanism. In the first half of the season, Varitek seemed to get better results with his streamlined mechanics. But after Varitek fell into a funk in mid-season, he reverted to the toe tap and saw his slump deepen. On the recent homestand, Varitek eliminated the toe tap again and while he has had better at-bats, the results have not improved.

"He's back to not toe-tapping and kind of simplifying things again, so we'll see," said Magadan. "No matter who you are or how much experience you have, you're going to have that lost-in-forest mentality. You start panicking and go back to what you feel comfortable with, whether it makes you better or not." The reduction in playing time, Magadan added, has been "like a catch-22. There is the grind of catching every day, but then, it is not getting consistent at-bats. I wish he would have stayed with what he was doing and grind through it, but now he has realised: 'Let's go back to what I was doing when I had a lot of success in the first half.'

Since Martinez arrived, Varitek has caught every Josh Beckett start but one. The one time Martinez was behind the plate for Beckett - after Varitek was scratched at the last-minute because of a sore neck - the Sox ace was shelled in Toronto. With the post-season looming, Terry Francona may want to pair Beckett and Martinez again, just so they can have a base together should he team them in the play-offs.

"I don't know," said Francona when asked of the likelihood of the pairing. "Its not a bad question. I just don't know. I know the numbers with Tek are phenomenal and I believe in that. I also know the night Victor caught Beckett was a crazy night (with pitching coach John Farrell also absent). "I'm very aware that when Victor catches, our line-up is more potent. Also, our goal is to win that game. That's where we probably have to sit down and think about it. I just don't know the answer."

Left fielder Jason Bay was scratched from the original starting line-up 90 minutes before game time and replaced by Josh Reddick in left field. Bay had reported to Camden Yards yesterday afternoon and told Francona he had recovered from the flu-like symptoms that led to his removal in the fifth inning Friday night.But as the Sox were about to take batting practice, Bay pulled himself from the line-up, with Reddick taking his spot. Reddick promptly homered in his first at-bat, smashing a pitch over everything in right, scoring JD Drew ahead of him. Reddick has two career homers and both have come at Camden Yards. He hit his first major league homer here on August 2. "Maybe coincidence," said a smiling Reddick of his penchant for homers here.

smcadam@thenational.ae