'Salty' preparing to be No. 1 catcher in Boston

Published Jan. 15, 2011 5:08 a.m. EST

Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn't earn Boston's starting catching job as much as inherit it when Victor Martinez signed with the Detroit Tigers as a free agent.

So Saltalamacchia knows that he can't take anything for granted.

''To have that trust in me, to have people believe in me, is huge,'' he said Friday night at a charity event at Fenway Park. ''I envisioned being in their plans somehow. I'm very happy and fortunate to be in this position.''

Acquired from the Texas Rangers' minor league system at the trade deadline, Saltalamacchia was limited to 10 games in Boston last year because of a left leg infection and a thumb injury that required surgery in the offseason. Saltalmacchia, who also had problems throwing the ball back to the pitcher, said at a fundraiser for general manager Theo Epstein's charity that he was healthy and getting ready for spring training.


''He's kind of re-formed his body,'' Epstein said at the Hot Stove Cool Music fundraiser for his Foundation To Be Named Later. ''He's not taking this opportunity for granted.''

Epstein said Saltalamacchia has been diligent in his offseason workouts, improving his flexibility while also adjusting his catching style to become a more technically proficient defender. Little things like turning his wrist, instead of moving his arm to catch pitches, will help him and the pitchers he handles.

Although Saltalamacchia will replace Martinez behind the plate, he doesn't have to fill that role in the batting order. Boston traded for slugger Adrian Gonzalez and signed speedster Carl Crawford during the offseason, bringing in a couple of bats that can more than replace the production lost when Martinez and Adrian Beltre left.

Epstein said that will help Saltalamacchia develop, because he won't be expected to hit the way Martinez did when he batted .302 with 20 homers last year. Another bonus will be the ability to work with Jason Varitek, the longtime Red Sox catcher whose handling of pitchers is considered a strength.

Varitek, who was all but gone when his contract expired at the end of last season, signed a one-year deal to return to the team as a role player. Epstein likes the combination of a young catcher who's learning the job and a veteran known for his handling of the pitchers.

''They've already shown they can work together,'' he said. ''Salty's always looked up to Jason, even before he was in the organization. He's a very willing mentor, and Salty's a very willing disciple. So the relationship is going to be a plus for us.''

Epstein's charity, a branch of the Red Sox Foundation, raises money for disadvantaged youths in the Boston area. Friday night's event and a Saturday night concert featuring professional musicians along with baseball rockers like Bronson Arroyo and Peter Gammons, raised about $300,000.

Also on Friday, closer Jonathan Papelbon and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury filed for arbitration. Papelbon made $9.35 million last season, which was the worst of his career; Ellsbury, who made $496,500, struggled in 2010 because of injuries and played in just 18 games.