With David Ortiz returning from a bout of bursitis that took him out of action since August 16, Ryan Lavarnway's place on the Red Sox roster is suddenly up in the air. The catcher was called up to take Kevin Youkilis's place on the roster, but he filled in at DH, Ortiz's slot in the lineup.
Lavarnway has hit .318/.423/.409 in his first six games and 22 at-bats in the majors -- while he hasn't shown much of the power that got him plenty of attention in Pawtucket this summer, he has displayed the plate discipline and pitch recognition that made for a successful approach in the minors.
It's not as simple as giving him some starts behind the plate: while he has the hitting side of things down, so does Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jason Varitek has hit well enough for a catcher, especially against left-handers, and Lavarnway hasn't been working with the pitching staff all year like those two have. Defensively, Lavarnway is coming along, but it's likely he will be spending 2012 improving on his handling of a pitching staff down in Pawtucket, so asking him to take control at this late juncture is a bit much.
The Red Sox don't want to interrupt his development, but it's debatable whether Lavarnway would learn more with another week in Pawtucket in the lineup than he would on the bench in Boston. As Ian Browne mentioned last night, Lavarnway has been working with Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck, as well as spending time with veteran catchers Varitek and Saltalamacchia.
Another week leading up to September call-ups may be more valuable for Lavarnway than more at-bats against Triple-A pitching. Of course, having some time to implement what he has already been working on with Tuck in the bigs for the past week has its merits, too. It makes for a tricky situation for the 23-year-old, especially with Pawtucket poised to make the playoffs -- that would give Lavarnway even more time to play everyday.
What it comes down to is where the Red Sox believe he will learn more. They don't want his development interrupted, but there are more ways to learn than just by playing in games, as his week with Tuck and the two catchers already on the roster reminds us, so heading back to Pawtucket isn't the obvious answer. The Red Sox also have a very high chance of making the playoffs at this late stage, and will likely rest regulars in order to keep them healthy for October baseball, so there will be at-bats for Lavarnway in the majors if they want there to be. In the long run, though, those at-bats may be secondary to whatever lessons he can learn in his short time with Boston.