BOSTON -- After getting a rare three-day break, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia returned to Boston's lineup on the night the club was honoring his mentor, Jason Varitek, in a pregame ceremony.
Entering Saturday's game, Saltalamacchia was hitting just .098 in July, belting just four hits in 41 at-bats. He quickly broke out of that spell with a three-run homer in the second inning, his 18th of the season, which leads all Major League catchers.
It was a good time for Saltalamacchia to take one of Varitek's most frequent messages to heart.
"The importance of the pitchers is obviously No. 1. It doesn't matter what you do at the plate," Saltalamacchia said. "It's more important what you're doing behind the plate."
Varitek drilled the message into the ground over the years that the Red Sox would win if they pitched well.
"At the end of the day, a win is what matters," Saltalamacchia said. "We can't win if the pitchers don't pitch. I'm not here to create all the offense. That's what the other guys are getting paid to do. I'm getting paid to catch and call a good game and get our pitchers through the game, and that's what I take pride in."
Saltalamacchia was out of the lineup for three days, both because of his slump and because the Red Sox faced three straight lefties. Kelly Shoppach has generally started behind the plate against southpaws.
"Two days off was nice," Saltalamacchia said. "Three days off, I would have liked to have played just to get timing down. I'm not going to complain about days off at this time. Any little added extra will help for the long run."
Warmup routine may be behind Beckett's struggles
BOSTON -- While Josh Beckett's first-inning struggles continue to be an utter mystery to everyone around the Red Sox, perhaps one thing that could be altered is his warmup routine
"Josh warms up earlier than anyone in the history of baseball, I think," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Now, the question would be, 'Should he warm up later?' Maybe. But this is a dog that is hard to teach a new trick to. He's been very successful warming up as early as he warms up. But I've never seen anyone have the break he has in between the time he warms up and the time he goes out there."
Beckett's ERA in the first inning this season is 10.69.
Pitching coach Bob McClure said he will broach the warmup subject with Beckett.
"He's been a pretty successful pitcher and has been doing it the same way for a long time," McClure said. "As you get older, there's some things you might do a little bit different. Maybe it's something he'd want to do. I'm going to ask him. It's something I'm going to ask Josh and see what he thinks."
How much earlier does Beckett finish warming up than most pitchers?
"Five minutes," McClure said. "Some guys -- I would say -- most guys are done between four and seven minutes before the game starts. He's probably done 10 to 12 minutes before the game starts."
Nobody among the Red Sox's brass wants to force change on Beckett. McClure said that he's seen other pitchers in his career go through a similar routine, including Bruce Chen.
"I was confident he was going to go out yesterday and put up a zero. I'm confident next time he goes out there, he's going to put up a zero in the first inning," Valentine said.
While Beckett (5-8, 4.53 ERA) and Jon Lester have both performed well under expectations for the Red Sox this season, there have been no health red flags in either case, according to Valentine.
"I've been totally re-assured that physically he is in tip-top shape," Valentine said of Lester, who will start Sunday.
Beckett, meanwhile, returned from the disabled list on June 30, but hasn't had any health issues since.
Ellsbury gets a break; Aviles nicked up
BOSTON -- After playing in eight straight games upon his return from the disabled list, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was out of Boston's lineup on Saturday night.
However, there were no setbacks and no reason he couldn't appear in the late innings of the game should manager Bobby Valentine need him.
"It's kind of a planned day," Valentine said of Ellsbury, who is hitting .279 with no homers and three RBIs since being activated.
Daniel Nava led off in Ellsbury's place and started his first career game in right field.
"He's a good player and he's played great defense all year," Valentine said of Nava. "He said he's played there before, worked out today early at 3 p.m. See the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball, I think he can do those things."
Shortstop Mike Aviles was also out of the lineup, as Pedro Ciriaco got the start and batted ninth.
"Mike hit the base yesterday and had a little bit of turf toe," said Valentine. "Those things can really get worse, so he's off his feet today for most of the day."