Vazquez gets opportunity to show his stuff

BOSTON -- The word around Triple-A Pawtucket for the last month has been that catcher Christian Vazquez felt he was ready to make his way to Boston.

He had already done enough to prove himself to the Red Sox defensively, catching nine of 14 would-be base stealers during 26 spring training games. He even impressed with the bat in those outings, hitting .297 and reaching base at a .366 clip.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, however, that the Red Sox finally were ready for Vazquez, designating catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and moving forward with the 23-year-old native of Puerto Rico as their primary backstop.

“I’m excited to be here to help the team to win,” Vazquez said. “It’s my dream to be here playing in the big leagues and I’m very happy.”

The Vazquez era at catcher began immediately, with the youngster joining four other rookies (Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts) in the Red Sox lineup Wednesday night. He hit ninth and wore No. 55 in his major league debut.

“It is an opportunity for us to invest in players that are going to be here beyond 2014,” manager John Farrell said of the switch to Vazquez. “That brings Christian to us -- a guy that we are high on his abilities, particularly as a defender ... and someone who continues to develop as an offensive player.”

In Vazquez, the Red Sox have a young catcher with all the tools to find success at the major league level. His defense is above average, with caught stealing percentages in each of his seven minor league seasons that have been consistently high. In 66 games with Pawtucket this season, Vazquez caught 19 of 48 attempted base stealers, good for 40 percent. By comparison, Boston catchers have caught 16 of 71 base stealers, or 23 percent.

Even Vazquez’s bat has come around recently, with the catcher hitting .342 in his last 10 games and riding a seven-game hitting streak. On the season, Vazquez sports a .279 average with three home runs and 20 RBIs.

“He can help us certainly defensively and his at-bats over the last six weeks or so have been more consistent,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “It’s a bit of an investment in him and opportunity for us to find out a little bit more about him as we start looking forward.”

At the major league level, Vazquez will have a trustworthy mentor to turn to in David Ross. Having worked together in spring training the past two seasons, Ross raved about Vazquez’s attitude and dedication toward his craft.

“He wants to help the pitchers,” Ross said. “He’s not just about hitting, he’s not just about catching -- he’s about both. I think he’s going to be a good bright spot for us.

“He’s a guy that’s about winning first and I think we’re going to be better off for having him.”

Farrell said he expects Ross to serve as a guide for Vazquez, planning to start the rookie four times a week and Ross three times a week to ease the transition.

“David Ross’ ability to mentor in that role will be part of this, but we’re not leaving it solely up to him,” Farrell said. “He, along with our staff and our pitchers, [will] play a pivotal role in this.”

“I think I can help him a lot,” Ross said. “I think it’s the in-game stuff that I’ll help the most -- the managing of an inning, the managing of if you feel like guys are sitting on pitches or not sitting on pitches or looking to execute a certain plan and how to go against that plan.”

Despite the quick turnaround, Vazquez said he’s happy to get started immediately. With a familiar face from Pawtucket in Rubby De La Rosa on the mound Wednesday night and a “great catcher and teammate” in Ross to turn to when needed, Vazquez will look to take advantage of what he described as a great opportunity before him.

“He’ll have an opportunity to learn a lot about catching,” Cherington said. “We’ll help him as much as we can with that.”