PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Port, where it didn’t take long for the Boston Red Sox to try and gain a competitive advantage on the Washington Nationals, the National League East powerhouse who will oppose the Red Sox in Boston’s home opener April 13.
New catcher Sandy Leon, acquired from the Nationals for cash considerations on Monday, made the trip over from Viera on Monday and paid a visit to his new teammates.
Before catching his first game for the Red Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday morning, the Sox coaches already had recruited Leon for a meeting to go over the Nationals’ hitters and pitching staff.
“I think I can help," Leon said with a smile.
Tuesday afternoon, Leon, wearing No. 3, saw his first action in a Sox uniform, catching the first five innings of a game the Sox would win, 11-8, by staging a nine-run rally in the ninth. It was an atypical exercise -- manager John Farrell made it a bullpen game, with closer Edward Mujica starting and four relievers following before minor leaguer Keith Couch pitched the last four innings.
Leon figures to be the team’s backup catcher to Ryan Hanigan, a job that opened up when the Sox placed No. 1 catcher Christian Vazquez on the 60-day disabled list with an injury to his throwing elbow. Vazquez is scheduled to visit orthopedist James Andrews for a second opinion on Wednesday, with surgery looming as a strong possibility.
Leon, a 26-year-old native of Venezuela, is clear about his priorities.
“First, I want to make the team," he said.
Farrell noted five innings is hardly sufficient for an evaluation, but Leon made a good first impression.
“He had a pretty good feel for reading swings," Farrell said. “And he’s quiet behind the plate."
Leon is quiet in the sense of minimizing his physical movements behind the plate, not in making small talk with hitters or the umpire.
Farrell has not declared an end to the competition for the backup job, and rookie Blake Swihart, who replaced Leon, had two hits in the ninth, including a two-run triple and RBI single. But the Sox have made it clear their preference is for Swihart to begin the season in Triple-A, and Leon, who already is on the roster, has the edge over nonroster catcher Humberto Quintero.
Leon said he already has talked with Vazquez, whose minor-league progression paralleled Leon’s. They’ve known each other since Leon was playing for the Vermont Lake Monsters in 2009 and Vazquez was playing for Lowell in the short-season New York-Penn League.
“We’re really good friends," Leon said.
A few other tidbits:
Rusney Castillo had three hits, all singles, and is batting .320. Castillo was thrown out attempting to steal in the first inning, and he and center-fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. both were charged with throwing errors on strong throws to third base that skipped past the bag. Shortstop Deven Marrero also made two throwing errors on balls that he’d gloved by ranging far to his left, then spinning to throw. “We were sloppy," Farrell said.
Allen Craig played first base and did not get the ball out of the infield in three at-bats, striking out once. He also drew a walk.
Farrell had praise for Tommy Layne (scoreless inning) and Anthony Varvaro (two). Junichi Tazawa, who pitched the second inning, gave up a three-run home run to Daniel Robertson, the No. 9 hitter in the Rays' order.