SAN FRANCISCO -- One of the underplayed stories of the season for the Red Sox has been the much-improved offensive approach of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The catcher leads the Red Sox with 34 doubles. His .272 average represents a big improvement from the .222 clip he hit at a year ago. The homers (10) are down after Saltalamacchia went deep 25 times last year, but the Red Sox will gladly take that tradeoff.
"I think the daily work he does with [Greg Colbrunn] has paid off," Farrell said. "We've seen him not be so home run oriented in his mentality at the plate. He leads our team in doubles. The number of doubles hit is more of a sign of a complete type of hitter rather than one who's just trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark."
And Saltalamacchia has continued to hit at a strong clip even with the rigors of catching, which can take a toll this time of year.
"Strong guy," said Farrell. "This is a guy that keeps himself in great shape; he prepares. He's doing a very good job. And you know what, the offense has been probably the best of his career as far as doubles, batting average. If anything, the more consistent playing time has helped him."
Suspended Dempster to get extended break
SAN FRANCISCO -- The five-game suspension Ryan Dempster is currently serving for plunking Alex Rodriguez will actually turn into a longer break for the veteran right-hander.
With off-days on both Thursday and Monday, Red Sox manager John Farrell will go with a four-man rotation until Aug. 30, when Dempster makes his return by opening a three-game series at Fenway Park against the White Sox.
If Dempster hadn't been suspended, he would have started Saturday against the Dodgers.
His next start will come after 11 days of rest.
"With the off-days coming up, we're just trying to not get too many days off for guys," said Farrell. "There are some matchups along the way as well, seeing how we can take advantage of all of them."
Perhaps the break comes at a good time for the 36-year-old Dempster, who has a 6.81 ERA over his last seven starts.
"And I think because his status or his experience, I don't think the additional days at this point in the year will cause him to get out of a routine or affect the overall command," said Farrell. "When we've seen added rest at this point in the year, he's been more sharp, and the crispness to the secondary stuff has been noticeable."
Papi exits early with mild back tightness
SAN FRANCISCO -- Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is the first to acknowledge he sometimes feels the aging process. And this week, the circumstances were ripe for the slugger to feel some aches and pains.
After flying to San Francisco on the day of the game Monday, Ortiz played first base for the first time in nearly two months. Ortiz got the night off Tuesday and exited after five innings Wednesday with some lower back stiffness.
Ortiz doesn't deem the injury as serious in any way and expects to be back in the lineup when the Red Sox open a three-game series in Los Angeles on Friday night.
"It kind of grabbed me a little bit in my first at-bat. I was trying to fight through it," Ortiz said. "It's not anything bad. It's just a little tight. The manager just decided to pull me out because I wasn't feeling good. I'll probably be fine. I'm not really concerned about it. I think I'll be fine."
It was a good chance for Mike Napoli to get some playing time. After suffering a plantar fasciitis injury in his left foot, Napoli has been out of the starting lineup the last five games.
Farrell hopes to get Ortiz a start at first base in two of the three games in Los Angeles. But the back issue might lead the manager to use some caution.
"You know, I think when we get through the next couple of days, we'll kind of see where he's at," Farrell said. "We certainly have to factor it in. he'll be a big part of it as we make those decisions."
After this weekend, the Sox only have two games without the DH for the rest of the season -- Sept. 24-25 at Colorado.
Of course, the Sox would love to have the opportunity to go without the DH for three games after that, because it would mean they were in the World Series.
• Clay Buchholz's rehab start Sunday will be with Class A Short-Season Lowell in a road game at Hudson Valley. This, despite the fact that Triple-A Pawtucket is home.
"Just a progressive step," Farrell said, when asked why Buchholz would start against a lower level of competition.
• Lars Anderson, once a top prospect for the Red Sox who has been released by numerous teams, visited with some former coaches and teammates before Wednesday's game at AT&T Park. Anderson lives in Northern California. Though currently unemployed, he is only 25 years old and could resurface at some point.
• Farrell went out of his way to praise the work that first-year catching instructor Dana Levangie has done with Saltalamacchia.
• When the Red Sox go to Los Angeles this weekend, there will be plenty of subplots, given the mega-trade they made with the Dodgers last August. Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto will all face Boston this weekend. Josh Beckett is out for the season following surgery.
"We've got a lot of side stories going on right now," quipped Farrell. "This will just be another one."