CLEVELAND -- Kelly Shoppach doesn't want to rush to assess his performance as the Indians' everyday catcher since Victor Martinez went on the disabled list last month. That will have to wait for the end of the season. But for manager Eric Wedge, the early returns have been worth noting. "I think he's been pretty consistent," Wedge said. "I feel like he needs to keep doing what he's doing. If he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll continue to improve."
With the Indians' starting rotation struggling to recover from the losses of CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook, and the designated hitter spot significantly lacking since Travis Hafner was sidelined, Shoppach has given the Indians some much-needed stability in Martinez's absence. Since Martinez went on the DL with right elbow inflammation on June 12, Shoppach has batted .276 with five home runs and 17 RBIs. His numbers haven't been extraordinary, but for the lumbering Cleveland offense, the 28-year-old Shoppach has certainly been better than the norm. "I just think I'm gaining experience, both offensively and defensively," Shoppach said. "Getting the opportunity to play every day gives [you] the chance to relax a little more and not put too much pressure on yourself." Shoppach, however, has not been immune to a few growing pains. Known as a defense-first, offense-second catcher since he was acquired from the Red Sox in 2006, Shoppach has caught just three of 23 stealing baserunners, and has already compiled six passed balls in 61 games. Last season, he caught 13 of 36 runners stealing, and had just two passed balls in 58 games. Wedge, however, isn't overly concerned with Shoppach's defensive setback. "I don't really worry about that too much," Wedge said. "Yeah, he needs to be more consistent than what he is, but he's starting to get better control of his arm and slowing himself down a little bit. He's so quick naturally, the last thing we need is for him to try to be quick, because then he gets out of control." Wedge said Shoppach may have been playing a little out of control early this season, when he was thrust into the everyday role after Martinez was sidelined with an Opening Day hamstring injury. This time around, it's been a different Shoppach behind the plate. "He was definitely feeling it in April," Wedge said. "But this second time around, I feel like he's been much more relaxed and much more comfortable." The reason? Well, you'll just have to wait until the end of the season. "My at-bats are getting better and my approach as an everyday player is getting better," Shoppach said. "It's just hard to look back when you're in the middle of it."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.