Red Sox

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know who they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

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The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

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Red Sox notebook: Velazquez, Elias getting shots at fifth spot

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USA TODAY Sports Photos

Red Sox notebook: Velazquez, Elias getting shots at fifth spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The starting pitchers for the Red Sox in the first two games of the Grapefruit League season, Hector Velazquez and Roenis Elias, are likely going to get major league opportunities in 2018 — and one of them very well might get a look in the first week of the season.

The first four starters the Red Sox will carry are obvious, assuming health: Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello. Alex Cora on Saturday declined to name an Opening Day starter, but Sale is the obvious choice after finishing second in American League Cy Young voting to Corey Kluber. Cora said too that he likely would insert Porcello somewhere in the middle of the rotation, considering the other three aforementioned starters are lefties.

Where the Sox go beyond those four, though, could be to some relatively unknown quantities. 

Steven Wright is rehabbing from knee surgery and awaiting potential discipline from the league office following an offseason arrest on a domestic assault charge. Wright could well be suspended to begin the season, and may not be physically ready to start on the active roster anyway. Eduardo Rodriguez’s own knee surgery has him slated to come back perhaps in late April. 

That puts righty Velazquez and lefty Elias in prime position for at least temporary contributions. Both are on the 40-man roster and have big league time. In a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Ray on Saturday, Elias pitched two scoreless innings on Saturday, just as Velazquez did Friday against the Minnesota Twins.

In past seasons, the Red Sox would often have an off-day after their very first game of the regular season, thereby allowing for a fifth starter to be skipped if desired. That’s not the case for this year, with six straight games for the Sox — three vs. the Rays, three vs. the Marlins — before an off-day. Come April 2, then, the Sox will need a fifth starter. 

(Whether the Sox even use off-days this year to skip pitchers or just to rest their guys is to be seen. Sale, for example, historically has pitched often on extra rest, and the Sox want to keep him fresh.)

Lefty Brian Johnson could wind up a reliever, but he’s certainly capable of starting. Lefty Jalen Beeks, who is not on the 40-man roster but likely will be at some point this year, is depth as well, just like righty Chandler Shepherd.

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• The Sox did say long ago they wanted to add lefty reliever this winter. Now they’ve done it. As depth, anyway. Tommy Layne, last with the Sox in 2016, is back — in minor league camp without an invite to major league spring training. He was a free agent who participated in the camp the Players Association set up for unsigned players in Florida. Don't be surprised if Layne sees some time in big league games anyway.

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One area of the Red Sox spring complex has four practice fields aligned, with each field’s home plate positioned at nearly the same point, angled 90 degrees differently. In the past, the Sox more frequently used all four fields at once for the same set of drills. Now, they’ve cut back. The reason is so that coaches can see players better. This way, a coach could catch 50 percent of one pitcher’s live batting-practice and 50 percent of another. Attention is spread too thin if three or four fields are going simultaneously. That was Tony La Russa’s suggestion.

• Rafael Devers has shown some very quick feet in the early going, making a great diving stop to his right on Thursday. On Saturday, he made another smooth play but then threw away a throw to second base.

“Just get one out,” Cora said. “He was trying to get two which is great. This level you’ve got to turn double plays but there there’s certain plays you cant force.”

• Players union head Tony Clark visited camp on Saturday, part of his annual tour to meet different teams. Clark defended the collective bargaining agreement, which has been criticized because it helped create the environment that led to many unsigned free agents.

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Sox bringing Nunez along slowly at camp

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Sox bringing Nunez along slowly at camp

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Eduardo Nunez isn’t a starting pitcher, but the Red Sox are going to build him up slowly too.

The infielder (and assumed second baseman in place of the still-recovering Dustin Pedroia) hasn’t seen Grapefruit League action yet.

“Everything he did in the simulated game, he did a lot,” manager Alex Cora said Saturday after a 4-3 win over the Rays at JetBlue Park. “Stole bases..he had to dive [in the field]. I don’t want to push him. Today was a great day for him to just to, instead of being with the guys taking ground balls, we put him aside, just taking it easy, right at him, work on your footwork. Building up. So we’ve got to be fair with him too." 

Nunez, 30, a trade deadline acquisition last season from the San Francisco Giants, injured his knee and had to be carried off the field four pitches into the A.L. Division Series loss to the Houston Astros. 

“Over the course of the offseason it was more rehabbing for him and getting his strength back," Cora said. "We’ll take it easy with him. He’ll probably DH before he plays second or third or short or the outfield. But today I saw him taking ground balls before the live BP, and he did a good job moving his feet and working at third base too.”

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