PAWTUCKET – On a day in which Ryan Lavarnway was likely inundated with congratulatory messages, his college coach had no problem reaching his former pupil.
“He sounded very matter-of-fact,” Yale head coach baseball John Stuper said via cell phone Thursday, the same day Lavarnway made his major-league debut with the Boston Red Sox. “He’s a pro now and I don’t think this was a surprise to him. If anybody’s earned it he certainly has – not just through hard work but through actual production.”
The way Lavarnway has been terrorizing minor-league pitching this season, it appeared only a matter time before he reached the Red Sox. Opportunity presented itself when Boston placed third baseman Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list with a sore back. In order to get Lavarnway on the 40-man roster, the Sox designated reliever Randy Williams for assignment.
Lavarnway belted a combined 30 home runs between Pawtucket and Double-A Portland, tied for third most among all minor leaguers. It was a season few envisioned at the onset, as Baseball America had dubbed the California native the 16th best in the Red Sox’ system.
By turning one of the most remarkable seasons a Red Sox farm hand has compiled in quite some time, Lavarnway was able to put himself in a position to receive major league at-bats. The only question was whether they would come before September when the rosters are scheduled expand or beforehand.
The answer came Thursday as Lavarnway served as Boston’s designated hitter Thursday night, taking the place of the hobbled David Ortiz.
In 55 games at Portland, Lavarnway hit .284 with 14 homers and 38 RBI. He was promoted to Pawtucket when the Sox dealt Michael McKenry to Pittsburgh in mid-June, and his potency at the plate only grew.
In 55 games with the PawSox, Lavarnway hit .301 with 16 homers and 47 RBI. He was particularly potent against lefthanded pitchers, owning a .380 average in 50 at-bats.
Despite being in the midst of a 1-for-22 slump with the PawSox, Lavarnway is being viewed as someone who can hopefully inject some life into a sagging Boston offense.
“He cooled off a lot and I was reading what [Pawtucket hitting coach] Chili Davis said, which is that guys had started to pitch around Ryan,” Stuper said. “That’s all part of the learning curve and I’m sure he got anxious, but if you make a mistake to this kid, you’re going to be as [former MLB pitcher] George Hendrick once said, ‘rubbing up a new one.’”
If anything, the addition of Lavarnway gives the Red Sox another catching option behind Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
“His catching has been good and he’s handled all of our pitchers just fine,” said Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler. “Everyone’s always asked about his defense but he catches the ball and pitchers like to throw to him. He’s a pretty solid package.”
As far as Triple-A debuts go, Alex Wilson was just fine. The righthanded pitcher tossed six innings of three-run ball, yet it was Columbus rallying for a 7-5 win over Pawtucket Thursday night. The PawSox remain in first place in the I.L. North by .001 after Lehigh Valley defeated Rochester.
The difference in this one was the grand slam Scott Atchison surrendered in the eighth inning to Beau Mills, the son of former Red Sox bench coach and current Houston Astros manager Brad Mills. Beau Mills lined a 1-1 offering into the Pawtucket bullpen in left field, a shot that put the Clippers up 7-4 after trailing 4-3.
Still, the night was about Wilson, who was very solid going up against a veteran-laden Columbus lineup. The righthander recorded six strikeouts with three coming against five-year MLB veteran Travis Buck.
Wilson permitted four hits, three of which were bleeders while the fourth was a two-run home run off the bat of Jared Goedert. His first three outs came on fastballs that registered between 93-94 miles per hour. Wilson was able to maintain his velocity in the sixth as he got as high as 93 mph.
“For me it’s all about the fastball command and when I’m able to carry it throughout the outing, it’s going to be a good night,” said Wilson, who threw 87 pitches, 62 for strikes.
Brett Carroll keyed a four-run second inning for Pawtucket with a two-run triple while Daniel Nava blasted a solo home run in the eighth, his fifth in the last 10 games.
Not only did the PawSox lose Lavarnway Thursday, but the club also placed a pair of key starting pitchers on disabled list in Matt Fox (right shoulder strain) and Brandon Duckworth (right elbow strain). Fox is believed to miss only the length of the D.L. stint, which is seven days, while Duckworth’s injury is considered to be a bit more serious. As of Thursday night the PawSox were rumored to be bringing in a pitcher from outside the organization.
To replace Lavarnway, the PawSox added catcher Matt Spring, who has spent time with Single-A Salem and Portland this season. Pawtucket played Thursday night’s game with 22 bodies, two under the 24-man roster limit.
Columbus 010 200 040 – 7-7-0
Pawtucket 040 000 010 – 5-9-0
Zach McAllister, Nick Hagadone (8), Josh Judy (9) and Paul Phillips. Alex Wilson, Scott Atchison (7), Tommy Hottovy (9) and Luis Exposito. 3B: Brett Carroll. HR: Jared Goedert, Beau Mills; Daniel Nava.
WP: McAllister (10-3). LP: Atchison (6-2). Save: Judy (21). Time: 2:43. Attendance: 7,158.