BOSTON - Christian Vazquez has been one of the more pleasant surprises for the Red Sox so far this season.
Not known for his offensive prowess, Vazquez finds himself hitting .311 with five home runs and a .881 OPS. The five homers already match his career-high set in 2017.
In Friday night's series opener vs. the Astros, he continued his success at the plate going 3-for-4 with two doubles and driving in Boston's lone run.
Vazquez has been the Red Sox' primary backstop over the last three seasons, but this year still is a bit different for the 28-year-old. He's isn't looking over his shoulder and seeing Blake Swihart, once a top Sox prospect, competing for a regular role. Sure, there's still Sandy Leon, but it isn't a debate who "the guy" is or should be at catcher for Boston.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Saturday he believes designating Swihart for assignment last month sent Vazquez a message.
"I do feel that [DFA'ing Swihart] - and that wasn't the reason, it was just a baseball move - it challenged [Vazquez]," Cora said. "You know, like 'hey, we believe you can hit. We believe you can be an all-around catcher.'"
Vazquez's improvement at the plate hasn't been all about Swihart's departure, of course. He had his moments during Boston's World Series run - particularly in the Division Series against the Yankees - and carried that experience over into the new campaign.
"Christian actually in the offseason decided to improve his swing," said Cora. "He was very successful in the playoffs. I don't know about the numbers, but the quality of the at-bats were great. If you go back to the people he faced starting with [Luis] Severino and then the home run against [Zack] Britton and the at-bat against [Justin Verlander] … he made a conscious effort to keep getting better. It wasn't a great offensive season for him, obviously he got hurt, but he did his homework.
"It's been great to see him this way. He's not the same guy two years ago, three years ago that he was just getting lucky getting hits. Now, you can see it. He's driving the ball. He's actually controlling the zone. Probably more swings and misses, but we'll take this."
As great as things of gone for Vazquez in the young season, there's a long way to go. 118 games, to be exact.
Cora likes what he's seeing, but now it's a matter of consistency. The message to Vazquez has gone from "we believe you can hit" to "keep hitting."
"There's a lot of stuff going on with him, which is great," Cora said. "But at the same time, he knows that we're going to keep pushing him. He needs to keep getting better."
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