BOSTON — Christian Vazquez’s booming August, including a four-hit night Monday, makes more playing time almost a no-brainer. Almost.
The best managers do not typically let players dictate how they are used. But comfort, and specifically pitcher comfort, cannot be discounted, especially at a time of year where adapting to new norms is harder to stomach with little margin for error.
Sox manager John Farrell would probably love to keep Vazquez’s hot bat in the lineup. It’s worth discussing internally. But he can’t take the plunge without an honest approval from his pitchers: Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, who are both caught by Sandy Leon. Honest is the key word there.
“We’re confident in both guys equally,” Farrell said recently of his backstops. “The over-riding factor has been the rapport that they have created with the starters that they have already. With the exception of Sandy’s week missed because of the knee, they’ve been paired up with the same starters all year and I think it’s paid dividends.”
It’d be quite a move to veer off from that thinking now, with a month to go. But the temptation must exist. Vazquez is hitting .439 (25-for-57) dating to July 29. He's raking at a time offense has been scarce. It practically disappeared during a four-game losing streak that ended with Monday’s 6-5 win.
Craig Kimbrel’s apparent dislike for pitching in the eighth inning, rather than the ninth — and Farrell’s deferral to that apparent preference — is one matter for a manager. Potentially disrupting a well-established relationship between a starting pitcher and backstop is another, particularly at this time of year.
Sale and Porcello are both coming off wretched starts. Sale is going through a review to figure out what went so wrong last time out against the Indians. Porcello may be doing the same, but this is uncharted territory for Sale in his time with the Red Sox.
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Corey Kluber, who beat the Yankees on Monday night, is gaining ground on Sale in the American League Cy Young race. But forget about awards. Sale simply has work to do to return to form. He lets Leon call his pitches and never shakes. Sale's not alone in that approach — letting the catcher dictate the selection — but it's rare, and puts increased emphasis on the receiver.
If Sale truly feels equally capable with Vazquez behind the plate in the middle of a pennant race, and communicates that to Farrell in a believable way, then Farrell should keep the hot bat around.
But as September begins and a pennant race unfolds, starting pitchers and catchers and well-established relationships are not something to mess with — unless the pitchers truly believe they can be just as successful otherwise.