Christian Vazquez has become ‘complete package,’ providing critical offensive spark for Red Sox

The Red Sox chose to carry three catchers on their Opening Day roster in an effort to provide some depth at the position, but a week into the season, it’s become evident that it wasn’t necessary.

Jonathan Lucroy was designated for assignment on Wednesday because there was no room for a third catcher and the Red Sox needed more pitching. Kevin Plawecki is the team’s preferred backup option, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he should be used sparingly, especially when Christian Vazquez is playing like he is right now.

Vazquez had a breakout season in 2019 and he’s taking it to a new level to start the shortened 2020 campaign. The Red Sox desperately needed a spark after a disastrous 1-4 opening homestand, and Vazquez provided it, producing three homers, eight RBIs and his usual exceptional defense behind the plate over two nights to lift the Sox to two critical victories to right the ship.

On a team in which usually reliable offensive contributors like Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and even J.D. Martinez are each off to slow starts, Vazquez has been an unstoppable force. After Thursday’s games, he was tied for the MLB lead with four homers this season — in just five games.

“I think somebody needs to do it,” Vazquez said. “I know they’re going to come back and be great hitters but we need to win. We need to do whatever we need to do to win and we’re playing better now.”

Not only has he been producing, Vazquez’s contributions have come in huge spots. In Wednesday’s victory, Vazquez’s solo blast in the seventh inning tied the game at 3. An inning later, after the Red Sox took a 4-3 lead on Mitch Moreland’s RBI single, Vazquez’s two-run single to right were critical insurance runs as the Sox barely held on in the ninth.

In Thursday’s victory, it was much of the same. Vazquez’s solo homer in the second inning was the first time the Red Sox took the first lead of a game since opening night, and his two-run blast in his next at-bat ended up being the difference in the victory.

Without Vazquez, the Red Sox very easily could be 1-6 to start the year with their season quickly slipping away before the calendar even turned to August.

“I think my work in the offseason is paying off,” Vazquez said. “It paid last year, and it’s paying this year. I need to continue to be consistent with my hitting and my catching. I know my defense is there always. My offense, I try to do my best to help the team win.”

It’s really the product of two offseasons. Once known as a defensive catcher, Vazquez has successfully changed the narrative. After hitting 10 career homers in his first four big-league seasons, Vazquez smashed 23 in 2019 and he’s already proving that number wasn’t a fluke so far this season.

Behind the plate, Vazquez has always been elite. He showed more of that Thursday with an impressive throw from his knees to catch Michael Conforto stealing at second, and he expertly called a solid start for Martin Perez and helped Matt Barnes get out of a big jam in the eighth. At 29 and soon to turn 30, Vazquez has developed an overall game that’s made him one of the best catchers in the league.

“Obviously Vazqy’s always been a very, very good defensive catcher, one of the best in the game,” said closer Brandon Workman, a longtime teammate of Vazquez. “Over the last couple of years, watching him come into his own offensively, it’s awesome to watch. He’s now gone from a defensive catcher to he’s the complete package. He can drive the ball out of the ballpark, he hits for average and then he’s still elite behind the plate.”

That first part took a while, but better late than never. And right now, as long as he’s healthy, he’s making it pretty hard for the Red Sox to go with anyone else behind the plate.

Vazquez put the transformation simply, and in a humorous way.

“I was tired of hitting ninth. I was tired to hit ninth,” Vazquez said. “I wanted to be a different player. I wanted to feel like I’m helping the team both ways. Hitting, catching. I’m trying to do my best.”

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