Francona: 'No knock' on Salty

BALTIMORE -- Jason Varitek is catching Clay Buchholz on Tuesday night. Barring anything unusual, like a 15-inning game, the 39-year-old Varitek will be catching Josh Beckett Wednesday night, too.

“No knock on Salty,’’ manager Terry Francona said, referring to the fact that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is being relieved of catching Buchholz for the second straight start after already being displaced behind the plate with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett.

No knock? It can hardly be seen as a vote of confidence, either, considering Saltalamacchia was behind the plate for Boston’s 7-0 shutout win over the Los Angeles Angels Sunday in Anaheim, and that Varitek is batting just .074 and is 0 for 15 against left-handers.

A very impressive rookie left-hander, Zach Britton, is starting for the Orioles Tuesday night.

So why Varitek and not Saltalamacchia? The short answer: The Sox are 6-2 in games Varitek has started, 4-9 with Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

“He’s been catching so well,’’ Francona said before Tuesday’s game. “Right-handed is where he should play. I know he hasn’t swung the bat yet.

“It made some sense. We’re playing pretty well with both of them. But we had a hole to dig ourselves out of, and sometimes to play guys to help us win right now is important.’’

The Red Sox have won eight of their last nine games entering this three-game series with the Orioles. Varitek has caught five games in that stretch, Saltalamacchia four, divided between two starts by Jon Lester and Lackey. Beckett and Matsuzaka have been nearly unhittable with Varitek behind the plate; Buchholz collected his first win of the season last Wednesday with Varitek catching. It wasn’t especially pretty (6 hits and 4 walks in 5 1/3 innings), but Buchholz managed to extricate himself from the jams he created.

Sox starting pitchers have a 0.88 ERA over their last nine games, the lowest by Sox starting pitchers over any nine-game stretch since 1918, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And the transformative performances by Matsuzaka -- who has pitched 15 scoreless innings with Varitek since giving up seven runs in two innings in his last start with Saltalamacchia -- are perhaps the most vivid examples of the impact Varitek has had.

The captain, who has been outspoken in his support of Saltalamacchia, said on Sunday that he didn’t want anyone to “dramatize” the catching situation.

"We're a team,'' he said. "We're going to go out and do whatever we need to do. If it means catching Beckett, fine. If it means catching Dice sometimes, fine. We're a team. It may be catching [Buchholz]. It may be catching [John] Lackey. We have to mix and match and do the things that help this team give ourselves the best chance to win.''