Dustin Pedroia

Blake Swihart could get a look at second base

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Blake Swihart could get a look at second base

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Marco Hernandez and Brock Holt were names you figured to see at second base while Dustin Pedroia recovers from right knee surgery.

One name you might not have expected, but may at least get a look: Blake Swihart.

"He’s an athlete,” manager Alex Cora said Tuesday at JetBlue Park. “You’ll see him in spring training in different positions. Looking forward to seeing him perform. Glad that he’s healthy, actually been in touch with him for a while. The ground ball part, he asked, where should I take ground balls? 

Cora told him it doesn’t matter. 

“Go to one spot,” Cora said. “I just want you to move your feet and we go from there. We’re going to challenge him, and he’s up to the challenge.”

Swihart said at Winter Weekend in January that catching remains his goal, but he’ll do what he’s asked.

It doesn’t appear likely that Swihart would become, say, the team’s starting second baseman before Pedroia returned. He’s only played catcher, first base and left field (as well as DH) in affiliated pro ball. But an experiment with a player who is out of options adds a wrinkle of intrigue to a camp where there aren’t many competitions.

“Oh yeah, second, third, I mean, anywhere,” Cora said when pressed on Swihart possibly playing second. “I haven’t been with him on a field but everything I hear, especially when he’s healthy, he’s athletic enough that you can move him around and obviously behind the plate, he can help. You don’t see that often, guys that are versatile enough.”

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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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Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

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Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

Dustin Pedroia has been cleared to run following October surgery on his right knee.

“It’s been pretty much what they thought it would be,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Thursday. “This is always the time they had told me. So you start running at this point, but that’s just running. So you’re not cutting, you’re not doing all things. We still have two and a half months until opening day. 

“I cant say he would never be ready, but we’re not pushing him for that. I think it’s more important he follows step by step. So you run, then cut, then you pick up the pace. But he’s made very positive strides. But that’s why he’s not going to be there this weekend, with the big crowds and all the treatment he has it’s probably not good for him in case someone would run into him accidentally. But he’s making good strides.”

Pedroia told WEEI this month that he’s eyeing Opening Day. Dombrowski said at Alex Cora’s introductory press conference in November that the Red Sox were targeting May. 

“We think Pedey is going to be back in May at some point right now if you listen to what the doctor has to say," Dombrowski said.

  • Dombrowski expects Mookie Betts and the Sox will wind up at a hearing, as assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran also said. The team made clear that if filing numbers were exchanged, a hearing would follow. That’s called a “file and go” approach, or “file and trial” or “file to go.” The Sox don’t employ the approach universally — they exchanged numbers with Drew Pomeranz before settling last year — but it is the approach they’re taking with Betts. A panel of arbitrators will decide if he makes $10.5 million, as Betts filed for, or $7.5 million, as the Red Sox filed for (barring an unexpected settlement before then).

 

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