Red Sox

What to watch for at Red Sox spring training

What to watch for at Red Sox spring training

Free agents will be working out in Florida, hoping for a job. J.D. Martinez will continue to be a hot name until someone signs him. Maybe the union and the league will keep sparring. Through it all, there will be regular old spring training, some baseball normalcy. A Red Sox team that's lost a couple pieces but remains largely unchanged from last season's 93-win team reports to Fort Myers this week. A new manager is in place, and there are some elements to keep an eye on right away.

How do Alex Cora, the coaches and the players blend? 
The Red Sox do have some new faces in uniform as spring begins. They’re just not going to be playing. Manager Alex Cora’s expected hands-on approach with some of the younger players could create some interesting scenes: is he in the clubhouse more often? Is he working one-on-one with guys in certain drills? A new coaching staff has a getting-to-know-you process with all the players. With another year under their belts, players like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. — Bradley in particular, given he’s older (he turns 28 April 19) — could start to take on different roles in the clubhouse, as part of the natural growth and maturity process. This is a group that’s been together a long time and is virtually unchanged from last year. The consistency of player personnel, when combined with the new perspectives of Cora and his staff, could amount to something special.

How does the bullpen shake out? 
You can argue that the most reliable unit on the 2017 Red Sox was its bullpen. The group’s 3.07 ERA was second in the majors only to the Indians. Carson Smith returned at the end of the season. If he remains healthy, the Sox should have their replacement for Addison Reed in-house. But do they really have enough? 

If you look back to the playoffs, David Price was the most trusted reliever the Sox had, along with Craig Kimbrel, naturally. Spring training isn’t exactly the proving ground in this case, but does Cora want to establish typical bullpen roles, or keep things more fluid? Inside of that conversation, does one of Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree or Joe Kelly distinguish himself further? Kelly threw 2 2/3 innings in the Division Series, and Austin Maddox threw two innings even. Barnes, meanwhile, wasn’t on the playoff roster. Along with a big bat, the Sox this offseason had their eye on a lefty reliever. Fernando Abad departed via free agency. They could still land a southpaw, but if they don’t, Robby Scott is the guy. Tyler Thornburg could be a contributor eventually. Kimbrel discussed the need for communication with his new manager when it comes to pitching outside of the ninth inning. Presumably, that matter will be sorted out in Florida.

How do the starters approach spring workload?
Less is more. David Price has a throwing elbow to manage. It’s well known that Chris Sale is going to be modifying his routine in an attempt to maintain his dominance all the way through the end of the season. He was amped up for his first year in Boston and came out firing in April, but wasn’t the same guy when the playoffs arrived. Around the game, you’re seeing fewer and fewer pitchers throw 200 innings. Bullpen usage is on the rise, in part to keep starters healthy, in part because effectiveness dips the more times a starter works through an opposing lineup’s order. Rick Porcello has had a huge workload the past two years: including the postseason, Porcello threw exactly 20 fewer innings in 2017 than he had in 2016, yet the difference in pitches thrown was only 17. Sale has the third most pitches thrown between the 2016-17 seasons, and Porcello the fifth most, including the postseason. 

Are the Killer B’s confident, healthy and ready to party like it’s 2016? 
If the Red Sox don’t get J.D. Martinez, there is a chance the team can still be excellent and win 93 games again. It’s just a lesser chance. The combination of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts had 201 fewer regular-season at-bats in 2017 then they did in 2016. They still struck out a combined 27 times more in 2017, a whole game’s worth of K’s. They collected 115 fewer hits and 27 fewer home runs. All had health issues, with Bogaerts’ the most pronounced. They all felt a connection with David Ortiz. A year later, are they comfortable and primed for a return closer to 2016 production levels?

How does second base work out in Dustin Pedroia’s absence? 
For a decade, second base has been a given. It’s easy to take Dustin Pedroia for granted. As he’s recovering from right knee surgery, will Brock Holt and Marco Hernandez hold down the fort effectively? Will they share time? The Sox could have added some infield help but didn't do that either. Pedroia’s a central figure on the Red Sox, but how strong he’ll be at the plate upon his return is to be seen. 

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Delay in J.D. Martinez's introduction suggests complication in medical review

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Delay in J.D. Martinez's introduction suggests complication in medical review

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They’re leaving us to speculate now.

Sox manager Alex Cora said essentially nothing Friday about J.D. Martinez’s unfinished contract, a five-year, $110 million pact that was in the medical-review process. 

“I’m not concerned. I’m not concerned. I’m just  -- the thing I can do is do my thing,” Cora said Friday. “My job here is to show up every day and get ‘em ready.”

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Cora’s statement that he is not concerned appeared less an assessment of Martinez's direct situation and more a reinforcement of Cora’s larger point: He is not going to publicly engage the topic as the field manager.

Cora said he was unsure if Martinez was still in Fort Myers. Here's guessing Cora really does know. But, this is traditionally a front-office matter. 

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and Martinez’s agent, Scott Boras, both have made comments about the process this week. Not on Friday, however. On Friday, they went silent. 

So let’s consider what we know, and what it could mean.

Multiple times this week, the media waited at JetBlue Park because there was a belief a press conference was imminent. Terms were agreed to Monday. We’re about to enter Saturday without a press conference. We know for a fact the Sox and Martinez were still going through the medical process as of Thursday.

Added up, everything is highly suggestive of some sort of complication during J.D. Martinez’s medical review. What is impossible to know is the impact of any potential complication. 

The original agreement could go through completely and totally untouched. A contract could be revised in a slight way or a larger way. Other doctor visits could be arranged, and indeed, probably have been. 

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A complication does not mean a contract will fall apart. That would be a wildly unexpected scenario. 

Rather, it could mean the sides once again dig in. The Red Sox have doctors, and so too does Boras. Sometimes, there are differing medical opinions.

And it would be strange if there wasn't some medical concern.

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Scheduling or a similar matter may have contributed in slowing down this process. But by now, with a nine-figure investment at stake -- plus the involvement of top doctors and a major league baseball team -- it’s hard to imagine what logistical issue could exist. They have email for records, they have planes for visits.

Everyone else has little in the way of answers.

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Marco Hernandez returns to Boston after setback with shoulder

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Marco Hernandez returns to Boston after setback with shoulder

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox’ infield depth was tested mightily in 2017. The group is already seeing some attrition in 2018.

Marco Hernandez, who appeared in the mix at second base (at least up until the recent signing of Eduardo Nunez), returned to Boston because his surgically repaired left shoulder, his non-throwing shoulder, was bothering him. 

On May 26, Hernandez's season was cut short when he had an open stabilization (Latarjet) procedure, which is intended to prevent the shoulder from dislocating. Part of the procedure included the insertion of foreign materials — hardware, as Cora referred to it on Friday — and at least some of that has now been removed.

“He was feeling discomfort in his shoulder,” manager Alex Cora said Friday morning. "Flew him to Boston, at the end, they took out the hardware off of it. It seems like… it was creating the discomfort. Obviously, everything went well. Can’t give you a time when he’s coming back.”

Hernandez’s recovery will be dependent on how he’s feeling. 

“There’s guys that come out right away and they can go and there’s people who will still feel it and it’s a longer process,” Cora said. “Hopefully he can come back sooner rather than later. He was feeling it and at the end, they checked everything and it was the hardware that they have there. He’ll be fine.”

Hernandez, 25, is entering his third major league season. In 116 plate appearances, he has a .284 average. He's a left-handed hitter and looked particularly impressive last spring training.

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