All that, however, doesn’t mean there was nothing encouraging about the move. It was clear from the start that Lavarnway was serving as a roster placeholder, but the catcher earned that brief promotion because of a solid start with the PawSox — one that, he said, has him “getting back to being myself at the plate.”
The implication, obviously, is that there was a time when Lavarnway wasn’t feeling like himself. It wasn’t just the stretch run of 2012, when he struggled mightily at the major-league level. It was a tough stretch that lasted most of the season, even as he managed to hit .295 with a .376 on-base percentage at Pawtucket.
Lavarnway characterized the problem as an inability to make adjustments in the middle of an at-bat.
“When I’m at my best, I am my own best hitting coach. I can make pitch-to-pitch adjustments during the at-bat and not have to come back to the dugout and waste an at-bat,” Lavarnway said.
That wasn’t the case last year.
“It was the first time that that had ever happened,” he said. “I was in unknown territory. I was searching for something and trying something new every day. There was no continuity.”
What sparked Lavarnway’s turnaround? A visit from his past, carefully logged on the computer of hitting coach Dave Joppie.
“I have a data base of stuff, with midseason and end-of-season evaluations,” said Joppie, whose work with Lavarnway dates all the way back to the fall instructional league in 2009. “I actually pulled those up off my computer, printed them out, gave them to him, sat down with him and we went through it step by step.”
“We busted out what he had had in the logs of his computer from 2010, 2011 — what we were working on then, how we had progressed,” Lavarnway said. “He had taken notes, and that was helpful to see what I was thinking when I was at my best a couple of years ago and trying to get back into it.”
Lavarnway has gotten back to the same pregame routine he used with Joppie when he started his breakout 2011 season in Portland. He’s also found a way to straddle the line of, in his own words, “being aggressive and being disciplined in my approach at the same time.”
Joppie views that as simply being prepared to hit right away.
“Probably the biggest thing with him is making sure he has the mindset of being ready to hit when he steps in the box, right from the 0-0 count,” Joppie said. “That’s something that he has done, instead of feeling his way through an at-bat, especially the first one. It allows him to be in position to recognize pitches better.”
Case in point: Lavarnway’s first at-bat for the PawSox on Monday night. Instead of settling into the game and the at-bat, Lavarnway got a first pitch up in the zone and lined it into center for a base hit.