Saltalamacchia adjusting to backup role

Veteran catcher enters Tigers camp behind McCann

Saltalamacchia adjusting to backup role

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia still hopes to be a starting catcher again someday. Despite the twists and turns of his career, he doesn't turn 31 until May.

For now, though, he believes serving as a backup catcher has given him a chance to step back and slow down the game in his mind. After a 2015 season that saw him released by the Marlins a month into the season, halfway through a three-year contract, then signed by the D'backs as a backup, he's ready for some stability deputizing James McCann in Detroit.

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"Never [backing up], I think that was good for me to see what it's like," Saltalamacchia said. "Being able to kind of ease my way into that was nice. But I'm at the point that I'm 30 years old, so I've still got a lot of time left. I want to get a starting job again one day, but here my job is to help these guys and do whatever I can to be a part in the process of winning. Whatever they want me to do, I'm a team guy who wants to win."

Unless Saltalamacchia falls into the struggles that doomed him in Miami, he should get that chance. Since the Marlins are still paying off his contract, the Tigers signed him for just $507,500, giving them a switch-hitting complement to the right-handed-hitting McCann.

"Being in a backup role is not easy," Saltalamacchia said. "You're not getting the reps, so you have to kind of simplify things. I think the biggest thing was I simplified a lot."

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Though pitchers and catchers don't officially report until Thursday, McCann and Saltalamacchia are already here, as is internal backup candidate Bryan Holaday. For Saltalamacchia, it's a chance to learn Tigers pitchers from behind the plate rather than relying on past experience in the batter's box.

"I'm always an early guy," Saltalamacchia said. "There's nothing different there. But it's important to get as many reps as you can with these guys, just talking to them, really catching their bullpens, try to see what their stuff does."

Reporting early to camp also gives him a chance to work in the batting cage, trying to pick up where he left off last season. After the All-Star break Saltalamacchia batted .273 (30-for-110) with seven home runs and an .884 OPS, nearly evening his ratio of strikeouts (32) to hits (30).

He tried to replicate that feeling by reporting to camp lighter than usual, aiming for his midseason weight rather than the bulkier frame he'd carry going in as a starter.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.