KANSAS CITY – Ryan Lavarnway knew this day was coming, given his strong minor-league season, but – in words that Sox GM Theo Epstein must have loved to hear – he also likes to “keep his head out of the roster” at the Major League level.
The 24-year-old catcher/designated hitter was too busy putting up eye-popping power numbers at Triple-A to worry about the ifs, buts and when surrounding his big league debut, but he also admitted that the whirlwind day trip to Kansas City was a little nerve-wracking.
“It was pretty bad on the plane . . . I had some knots in my stomach,” said Lavarnway. “Now that I’m here it’s kinda back to business. Cage-work, batting practice and the routine is going to kind of help me get back into it.”
It also sounds like the Yale-educated ballplayer is going to keep it simple, and that’s likely what catcher Jason Varitek expressed to him in a lengthy meeting between all three catchers and Gary Tuck prior to the Thursday’s series opener at Kauffman Stadium.
Lavarnway, serving as the designated hitter in David Ortiz' absence, batted seventh in his big-league debut and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. But his first game was a success anyway, as the Sox beat the Royals, 4-3.
“I’m trying to get focused and helping us to win the game tonight,” Lavarnway said before the game. “Trying to do what I do best. I have a middle-of-the-field approach and I’m trying to drive the ball gap-to-gap.”
Lavarnway was called up to Boston on Thursday morning when the Sox placed Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list with a “strained or sprained lower back” according to Sox manager Terry Francona. Randy Williams was designated for assignment to make room for Lavarnway on the 40-man roster. So the right-handed slugger, who swatted 30 home runs in 110 minor-league games this season and put up a .991 OPS in Pawtucket, is going to give a shot at injecting some punch into a Sox attack weakened without the dangerous bats of Ortiz and Youkilis.
Did the Sox skipper know Lavarnway would be knocking on the door after only a handful of at bats in spring training?
“He went to Double-A and just mashed, and then did the same thing at Triple-A. [Lavarnway] just knocked the door down,” said Francona.
It would be a welcomed sight if Lavarnway shows off some of the prodigious pop he’s flashed all season in both Portland and Pawtucket. The scouting reports from the minor leagues have been off the charts this season for the rookie right-handed slugger, and it’s a big reason the Sox shut down all trade requests for Lavarnway prior to July 31.
“He’s a tremendous hitter . . . especially for power. He started off in Double-A and continued up to Triple-A. He’s worked so hard on his catching, and I think at this point you’d say he was an average catcher,” said Francona. “That’s where he has some work to do. He may not catch while he’s here with us, but hopefully he hits a few home runs.”
Sox officials expect Youkilis will be ready to rejoin the Sox once his 15 days on the disabled list are over, and perhaps the two weeks off will be beneficial for a player annoyed by nagging physical issues pretty much all season.
“Structurally I think he came out [of the testing] pretty sound, and he had an injection,” said Francona. “He’ll take some time to let that recover, and I think his body was so beat up anyway that the back was the last straw really put him over the edge. We’re hoping this can allow him to be Kevin Youkilis again because I think after the game it was getting pretty obvious he needed to get it checked out.”
So the Sox will be without both Youkilis and Ortiz [heel] for at least a week and perhaps longer – Francona didn’t rule out the DL for Ortiz if his heel doesn’t improve – and said that it’s up to the collective team to not let the injuries affect them.
Certainly players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez will need to continue their MVP-level play, and a season underachiever like Carl Crawford would probably need to finally start carrying the team this season.
“You lose one and it’s kind of a big deal, and you lose two and it doesn’t help,” said Francona. “Our challenge is not let it affect us winning games. That’s what we’ll do. Whether it’s having [Pedroia] batting cleanup or move Jed up to second…whoever plays we need to win. That’s the idea.”
The team effort to battle through some August adversity begins in Kansas City, and could be the difference between the A.L. East crown and the wild card.