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Minor League notebook

Lavarnway catching up

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 7, 2010

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Ryan Lavarnway got plenty of attention in spring training, and millions saw his image on television. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old catcher, those millions were in Japan.

Lavarnway was pressed into duty for a publicity stunt March 2 when a Japanese reality show arranged to have 18-year-old Eri Yoshida throw her knuckleball with Tim Wakefield watching. Lavarnway gamely caught her lobs as Wakefield offered advice.

His work done, Lavarnway returned to minor league camp.

Now Lavarnway is making news for the right reasons. Through 23 games for Single A Salem, he is hitting .326. Lavarnway leads the Carolina League with 26 RBIs and is tied for third with 6 home runs.

Of equal significance, he is making great strides as a catcher.

“That was my biggest goal this season, to do everything it took to become a better catcher,’’ Lavarnway said. “I feel like I’ve been putting in the time necessary and it’s starting to pay off.’’

In an organization stocked with young catching talent, it was a commitment Lavarnway had to make. He shares the duties in Salem with the well-regarded Tim Federowicz. Double A Portland has Luis Exposito, and soon Cuban prospect Adalberto Ibarra will be in the mix.

Pawtucket catcher Mark Wagner, another good prospect, broke a bone in his left hand last week and is expected to miss two months.

“It’s motivation, knowing we have so many good catchers,’’ Lavarnway said. “The competition is good for all of us. I can’t be only a hitter, I need to be balanced.’’

A sixth-round draft pick out of Yale in 2008, the 6-foot-4-inch Lavarnway arrived as a polished offensive player who had to catch up defensively.

“Fundamentally, he had to make some big strides,’’ said Red Sox player development director Mike Hazen. “But nobody has put in more time and effort to make themselves a better player. He’s grown into his ability as he’s gotten more playing time.

“Ryan has worked hard on his receiving, blocking balls, all the things we’ve stressed. Now it’s showing up in the games.’’

Splitting time with Federowicz is not ideal, something Hazen acknowledges. There are days Lavarnway is the DH and can work on his catching only before games.

“We’re doing the best we can with it,’’ Hazen said. “They’re both guys we like a lot.’’

After two seasons in pro ball, Lavarnway looked at this year as an important one in his development.

“I know I understand the game and what’s expected of me as a catcher better than I ever have before,’’ he said. “I wanted to take a big step this season and so far it’s been going well.’’

Stretching himself
The Red Sox limited Casey Kelly to 50 pitches for each of his first four starts at Double A Portland. The idea is to control his innings now so he can pitch deep into the season.

The 20-year-old spent half of last season as a shortstop and threw only 95 innings. He’ll throw no more than 150 this season.

The shackles came off a bit Wednesday night in Portland, with impressive results. Kelly allowed one earned run on four hits over five innings and threw 50 of his 77 pitches for strikes.

“For me to get stretched out, I was really excited,’’ Kelly told reporters after a 2-1 loss against Reading.

Outfielder Domonic Brown, Philadelphia’s top prospect, hit the first home run of the season off Kelly.

“I thought I had him with a fastball away,’’ Kelly said. “But I left it up a little bit and he’s a really good hitter.’’

Hazen was at Hadlock Field for the game and was impressed by Kelly’s poise.

“He was tremendous,’’ Hazen said. “He made one or two mistakes. Casey has been everything we expected so far.’’

Kelly has a 2.87 ERA over 15 2/3 innings. He has allowed 18 hits and struck out 14 despite being one of the youngest players in the Eastern League.

Control issues
Dustin Richardson made it to Boston for three games last season and pitched well. The Red Sox expect the tall lefthander to return at some point this season, perhaps sooner rather than later if Scott Schoeneweis continues to struggle. For now, Richardson needs work on his control. He has struck out 15 in 13 2/3 innings for Pawtucket but also walked eight in his last 4 2/3 innings. “The stuff is there, he has performed pretty well,’’ Hazen said. “There is room for improvement with overall command. But we’ll be relying on this guy [in the majors] at some point this season.’’

Glove is a bit cold
Jose Iglesias is dealing with growing pains in his first pro season. He committed two errors for Portland Wednesday and has seven this season. But he is hitting .270 and has had “competitive’’ at-bats, according to Hazen. The cold weather has been a tough adjustment for Iglesias, who grew up in Cuba . . . Stephen Strasburg, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, has been promoted to the International League by the Nationals and will make his first start for Syracuse tonight. If he pitches every five days, Strasburg would pitch at Pawtucket May 17. He is expected to make only four or five starts in Triple A before going to the majors.

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