Garrett Richards tosses 5 solid innings after rocky start; Rafael Devers homers again; Matt Andriese picks up save as Red Sox battle back to defeat Orioles, 6-4, in 10 innings for fifth straight win

An off-day on Friday could not halt the Red Sox’ momentum on Saturday, as the club battled back, won its fifth consecutive game, and won its second straight series with a 6-4 victory over the Orioles in 10 innings at Camden Yards.

Richards stumbles out of the gates, but turns in solid performance

After getting rocked for six runs over just two innings against the O’s in his Red Sox debut last Sunday, Garrett Richards did not get off to the best of starts in his second outing of the season on Saturday

Gifted a two-run lead before he even took the mound, the veteran right-hander served up a pair of solo homers to the very second and third hitters he faced in Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander.

At that point, it appeared as though Richards was in for a rather long — or short — evening. To his credit, though, he managed to turn things around for the better by retiring 14 of the next 18 hitters he faced in order to get through five innings.

Over those five solid frames, the 32-year-old hurler surrendered all of two earned runs on three hits and three walks to go along with four strikeouts on the night.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 79 (47 strikes), Richards relied on his four-seam fastball 49% of the time he was on the mound Saturday, inducing eight swings-and-misses while topping out at 95.6 mph with the pitch.

Unable to pick up the winning decision despite the decent performance, Richards’ next start should come against the Twins in Minnesota on Thursday.

Ottavino gives up late lead

In relief of Richards, Darwinzon Hernandez got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen. The left-hander danced his way around some trouble in a scoreless bottom half of the sixth and recorded the first out of the seventh before yielding a hard-hit double to the speedy Cedric Mullins.

That led to Hernandez getting the hook in favor of Adam Ottavino, who managed to escape the jam by getting two quick outs.

The eighth inning, however, was a different story for Adam Ottavino, as the veteran reliever saw his side’s 3-2 lead turn into a 4-3 deficit after surrendering two runs on three hits in the frame. Josh Taylor had to come on to get the final two outs.

Dalbec, Barnes send things to extras

After falling behind by a run in the eighth, the Sox did not waste any time getting back into things in the top half of the ninth.

One-out singles from Marwin Gonzalez and the pinch-hitting Franchy Cordero off O’s reliever Cesar Valdez put runners at the corners for a struggling Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec was unable to come through with a go-ahead hit or clutch sacrifice fly, but he was able to drive in the tying run from third by doing the next best thing: grounding into a force out at second and beating out a double play.

The fact that a hustling Dalbec beat Freddy Galvis’ throw and reached first base safely meant that Gonzalez scored from third, which tied things up at three runs a piece.

That resulted in Matt Barnes coming on for the bottom half of the ninth, and the flame-throwing right-hander continued his dominating, season-opening run by striking out a pair in yet another perfect inning of relief to send this one to extras.

Chavis, Vazquez, and Andriese seal the come-from-behind victory

Michael Chavis probably did not anticipate playing a key role for the Red Sox in their game against the Orioles when he woke up on Saturday morning, but with J.D. Martinez being placed on the COVID-19 related injured list (cold symptoms), the 25-year-old infielder was called into action from the team’s taxi squad.

Pinch-running in place of Kevin Plawecki and placed at second base to start things out in the 10th, Chavis advanced to third on a sacrifice fly then came into score on a wild pitch from Orioles righty Dillon Tate.

Walks drawn by Alex Verdugo and Xander Bogaerts put runners at first and second for a red-hot Christian Vazquez, who proceeded to greet new Baltimore reliever Wade LeBlanc by ripping an RBI single to left field.

Vazquez’s fifth RBI put the Sox up by two at 6-4 going into the bottom of the 10th, which allowed Matt Andriese — yes, Matt Andriese — to pick up the first save of the season for any Boston reliever by tossing a scoreless inning.

Devers has rollercoaster of a game

Rafael Devers stayed hot on Saturday by mashing another home run as part of a 2-for-5 showing at the plate, but he did not necessarily get his night off on the right foot.

After plating Verdugo on an RBI single off O’s starter Bruce Zimmermann with two outs in the first, the 24-year-old wound up getting caught in a rundown between first and second with Gonzalez at the plate, though Bogaerts was able to score from third as a result of said rundown.

An inning and a half later, Devers had the opportunity to bail out Richards and record the final out of the second when Galvis struck out swinging and Rio Ruiz took off for second base.

On a nice and hard pickoff attempt from Plawecki behind the plate, Devers — playing in the shift — had the chance to tag out Ruiz at second for a strike ’em out-throw ’em out double play, but instead fielded the throw well in front of the bag and started jogging towards the visitor’s dugout.

The reason being, Devers thought there were already two outs in the inning and Galvis striking out marked the end of the frame.

That lapse in judgement did not come back to bite Devers or the Sox, but it was still a bit unusual to see nonetheless.

For as poorly as Devers may have played early on Saturday, he certainly made up for it in the later innings.

As previously mentioned, the left-handed slugger clubbed his second big fly of the season in the sixth to give his side a 3-2 lead.

He also made a clutch defensive play, when with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth, Devers fielded a groundball off the bat of Mancini on one hop and got the out at first to preserve a 4-3 lead for his side.

Next up: Pivetta vs. Lopez

Next up, the Red Sox will look to enact their revenge on the Orioles by completing the three-game sweep over their division rivals on Sunday afternoon.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta will be getting the ball for Boston, and he will be matched up against fellow righty Jorge Lopez for Baltimore.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN. Red Sox going for their sixth straight win.

(Picture of Red Sox: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Garrett Whitlock impresses with 2 scoreless innings in second appearance of season; ‘We needed him, and he did an outstanding job,’ Alex Cora says

Garrett Whitlock’s major-league debut came in an otherwise forgettable game for the Red Sox.

In their series finale against the Orioles this past Sunday at Fenway Park, the Sox found themselves down by 10 runs before the midway point of the third inning.

Whitlock, having come over from the Yankees as a Rule 5 Draft pick in December, came on in relief of left-hander Josh Taylor with two outs in the top half of the third.

From that point forward, the right-hander did not look back as he retired 10 of the 13 hitters he faced over 3 1/3 scoreless innings of work.

Four days later, Whitlock was called on again to pitch against the Orioles, though he was doing so in Baltimore in a game that was much more competitive.

After the Sox lineup tacked on two runs in their half of the sixth to retake the lead over the O’s at 4-3, Whitlock came on in relief of Thursday’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez, in the bottom half of the frame.

Although he was pitching in a closer game in his second outing of the season, the 24-year-old did not miss a beat in the process of sitting down all six hitters he faced in order over two perfect, scoreless innings of relief.

He needed just 20 pitches (15 strikes) to get through those two innings. 11 of those pitches were changeups, eight were sinkers, and one was a four-seam fastball that registered at 95.3 mph.

“You see it and it’s like, ‘Wow, he belongs,'” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Whitlock’s performance on Thursday. “The tempo. The conviction. Most of the time, Rule 5 guys don’t shake off your catcher, right? But he knows what he wants to do, and he does. He shakes him off and he goes to the pitch he feels is right in that situation. He’s been great for us.”

A former 18th-round draft selection of the Yankees out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2017, Whitlock had compiled 42 appearances (38 starts) across four minor-league levels before undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2019.

His recovery from that procedure coincided with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so before this past Sunday he hadn’t pitched in a competitive game in nearly two years.

“We still have to be careful,” Cora said in regards to Whitlock. “This is not what he’s used to. But, we do believe his stuff will play. This is the second time [the Orioles] have seen him and you saw the swings, so we’re comfortable with him. That was a situation where we were down, we get the lead, he was hot, so why not, you know? We needed him, and he did an outstanding job.”

Christian Vazquez has caught Whitlock in both of his outings thus far. It’s safe to say the veteran backstop has been impressed with what he has seen from the rookie hurler in those two appearances.

“He’s doing good, man. Great kid,” Vazquez said Thursday. “He’s got great stuff. Heavy fastball. Plus changeup. So he’s doing good. I think he’s going to help us big time.”

Whitlock, who turns 25 in June, must remain on the Sox’ major-league roster throughout the season or he would otherwise have to be offered back to New York since he is a Rule 5 pick.

Assuming he remains in Boston for the entirety of the 2021 campaign, the Georgia native would then be under team control through the 2026 season.

This would allow the Red Sox to maintain the services of a young, controllable arm with plenty of potential who could emerge as a legitimate starting rotation option next spring.

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Eduardo Rodríguez fans seven over 5 strong innings in first start since 2019; Rafael Devers and Kiké Hernández collect first homers of season as Red Sox top Orioles, 7-3, for fourth straight win

Eduardo Rodriguez picked up on Thursday where he left off 557 days ago.

The left-hander’s last start of the 2019 season came against the Orioles, and he allowed three runs over seven strong innings in that contest.

After missing the entirety of the 2020 season due to myocarditis, Rodriguez finally made his long-awaited return to a big-league mound on Thursday in Baltimore.

Working against the O’s in their home opener, the recently-turned 28-year-old again held Baltimore to three runs — this time over five innings — while scattering four hits and no walks to go along with seven strikeouts on the afternoon.

All three runs Rodriguez surrendered on Thursday came by way of the home run ball, with Ryan Mountcastle crushing a two-run homer in the first and Pedro Severino clubbing a solo shot off the lefty in the fourth.

From that point on, though, Rodriguez did manage to retire each of the final four hitters he faced in order.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 79 (56 strikes), the Venezuelan hurler sat at 91-95 mph with his four-seam fastball — a pitch he threw 13 times — while also inducing four swings-and-misses with his changeup — a pitch he threw 25 times.

Able to pick up his first winning decision of the year because of his triumphant effort, Rodriguez’s next start should come against the Twins next Wednesday.

Whitlock, Barnes sharp out of the bullpen

In relief of Rodriguez, rookie right-hander Garrett Whitlock got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen. The 24-year-old followed up his impressive big-league debut from last weekend by punching out three of the six Orioles he faced over two perfect frames of work to pick up his first career hold.

Matt Andriese, who helped Whitlock develop his changeup over the course of spring training, maneuvered his way around a leadoff walk and one-out single to toss a scoreless eighth.

Matt Barnes, meanwhile, was on the cusp of an immaculate inning (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) in the ninth, but he still struck out the side on 11 pitches anyway to preserve the 7-3 victory for his side.

Devers gets on the board with first homer

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a familiar foe in Orioles right-hander Matt Harvey, whom they had just seen last weekend.

Following a one-out double from Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers got the scoring started for the Sox right away by mashing his first home run of the season — a two-run shot — off Harvey to give his side the early 2-0 advantage.

Per Baseball Savant, Devers’ first big fly of 2021 left his bat at 111 mph and traveled approximately 452 feet to deep center field.

Retaking the lead and adding on some insurance

Harvey managed to hold the Boston bats in check after giving up that Devers homer, and him doing that coincided with the Orioles jumping out to a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning.

In the sixth, though, the Orioles starter put the first two hitters he faced — Devers and Christian Vazquez — on base on a pair of singles, and that would lead to his exit from this contest.

Matched up against lefty reliever Paul Fry now, Marwin Gonzalez drew a six-pitch walk, which allowed Christian Arroyo and Franchy Cordero to plate a pair of runs on an RBI groundout and RBI single.

Verdugo sparked more offense in the seventh, as he collected his second double of the afternoon and later scored on a two-base hit off the bat of a red-hot J.D. Martinez — marking the seventh straight game the vaunted slugger has reached base on an extra-base hit out of the gate.

That sequence put the Red Sox up two at 5-3, and Gonzalez added on to that with a run-scoring single of his own to make it a 6-3 contest going into stretch time.

Kiké Hernández comes through with first home run

Devers was not the only member of the Red Sox to notch his first homer of the year on Thursday, as Kiké Hernández did the very same in the top half of the eighth.

On a 2-2, 86 mph slider from Orioles reliever Tyler Wells, the 29-year-old pulled said pitch 372 feet to left field for his first home run in a Sox uniform.

Hernández’s 72nd career homer put the Red Sox up 7-3, which would go on to be Thursday’s final score.

Next up: An off day

Now winners of four straight after starting the season 0-3, the Sox will enjoy an off day on Friday before they look to keep things rolling against the O’s on Saturday.

Right-hander Garrett Richards is slated to get the ball for Boston in that contest, and he will be matched up against rookie left-hander Bruce Zimmermann for Baltimore.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Rafael Devers: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Nathan Eovaldi hurls 7 strong innings, Christian Vazquez crushes another homer as Red Sox complete sweep of Rays with 9-2 win in series finale

The Red Sox had nowhere to go but up after getting swept by the Orioles over the weekend, and up they went in the process of completing a three-game sweep of the Rays with a commanding 9-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Eovaldi tosses seven solid frames

Nathan Eovaldi led the way in his second start of the season, tossing seven innings of one-run ball while scattering just three hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts on the afternoon.

After giving up that one run on an RBI single in the third, the veteran right-hander retired 11 of the final 15 hitters he faced from the fourth inning on.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 91 (60 strikes), Eovaldi relied on his four-seam fastball 38% of the time he was on the mound Wednesday, inducing eight swings-and-misses while topping out at 99 mph with the pitch.

Ultimately picking up his first winning winning decision of the season, the 31-year-old hurler was named the YouTube Player of the Game for his efforts. His next start should come against the Twins in Minnesota next week.

In relief of Eovaldi, left-hander Josh Taylor wrapped things up by allowing one run over the final two innings of Wednesday’s contest to preserve the 9-2 win for his side.

Martinez, Bogaerts, Vazquez lead the way offensively

A Yoshi Tsutsugo RBI single gave the Rays an early 1-0 lead in the third inning, but the Boston bats responded with three runs of their own an inning later.

Xander Bogaerts knotted things up at one by driving in Rafael Devers on a line-drive, run-scoring single to center field off Rays left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, then Christian Vazquez took things into his own hands a few moments later.

Starting at designated hitter after catching all 12 innings on Tuesday, Vazquez crushed his second home run of the season — and second in as many days — off a 2-1, 83 mph cutter from Yarbrough at the top of the strike zone.

Vazquez’s 376-foot blast over the Green Monster gave the Sox a 3-1 advantage.

Aided by a two-run double from a red-hot J.D. Martinez, Bogaerts, Vazquez, Hunter Renfroe, and Christian Vazquez combined to tack on four additional insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth with some help from some sloppy fielding from the Rays.

By the time Arroyo drove in Renfroe on an RBI double to shallow right field, the Red Sox had jumped out to a 9-2 lead, which would be more than enough to secure a 9-2, series-sweeping win on Wednesday.

Next up: First road trip of the season

After salvaging their first homestand of the year to improve to 3-3 through their first six games, the Red Sox will head to Baltimore for the first leg of a two-city, seven-game road trip.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will be making his first start of the season in Thursday’s opener against the Orioles, and he will be matched up against veteran right-hander Matt Harvey.

First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

J.D. Martinez comes through with walk-off double as Red Sox top Rays, 6-5, in 12 innings for first series win of season

In the span of four innings, J.D. Martinez went from zero to hero for the Red Sox in their contest against the Rays at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

After committing a costly baserunning blunder while representing the tying run in the bottom half of the eighth, the 33-year-old slugger had the chance to redeem himself later on well into extra innings.

With two outs and two runners on in a 5-4 game in the 12th, Martinez — matched up against Rays reliever Ryan Thompson — drilled a flyball over the head of an outstretched Randy Arozarena in right field plenty deep enough to plate both Hunter Renfroe and Alex Verdugo to give the Sox their first walk-off victory of the season with a 6-5 win.

Martinez, who finished the day 2-for-6 with three RBI, stays hot and is now slashing .476/.522/1.000 through his first five games of the year.

Martin Perez tosses five-plus solid frames

Well before Tuesday’s late-night drama, Martin Perez made his first start of the new campaign.

Working five-plus innings, the veteran left-hander surrendered three runs — all of which were earned — on five hits, two walks, and one hit batsman to go along with six strikeouts. The second walk he gave up came with no outs in the top half of the sixth, and it marked the end of his outing.

Of the 92 pitches Perez threw on Tuesday, 52 went for strikes. The Venezuelan hurler also mixed in 29 cutters, 21 changeups, 19 sinkers, 15 curveballs, and eight fastballs on his way to picking up the no-decision. His next start should come against the Twins sometime next week.

Matt Barnes dazzles with two perfect innings of relief

After Austin Brice, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Darwinzon Hernandez managed to keep Tampa Bay off the scoreboard through the end of the eighth inning, Matt Barnes was called in for the ninth as he was tasked with holding the Rays at three runs.

Making just his second relief appearance of the year, the flame-throwing righty did exactly that by retiring the side in order in the ninth and then doing the same in the 10th after the Sox had knotted things up.

In total, Barnes struck out four of the six batters he faced and induced six swings-and-misses in the process of doing so.

Tanner Houck, Phillips Valdez close things out

Red Sox manager Alex Cora had said before Tuesday’s game that rookie right-hander Tanner Houck would be available to pitch out of the bullpen against the Rays.

Having just thrown 85 pitches in his start against the Orioles over the weekend, it seemed unlikely that the 24-year-old would be used in this one, but he was after all.

With a runner on second base to start each extra inning, Houck wound up surrendering the go-ahead run to the very first hitter he faced in Willy Adames, who ripped an RBI double down the left field line to give his side a 4-3 edge.

Houck did manage to escape the top half of the 11th without giving anything else up, though fellow righty Phillips Valdez fell victim to the unearned run himself an inning later.

All in all, Sox pitching combined to yield five runs (three earned) on eight hits, five walks, and 13 strikeouts on Tuesday night.

Christian Vazquez comes through in the clutch

Before Martinez’s late-inning heroics, the Boston bats were finding it difficult to score runs just one night after plating 11 in their first win of the season.

Facing off against vaunted Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the only run the Sox managed to bring across over the first seven innings came when Christian Arroyo scored from third on a wild pitch.

Martinez tacked on the first of his three RBI with a run-scoring double in the eighth off Pete Fairbanks in the eighth, then it was Christian Vazquez’s time to shine in the ninth.

Going into his fourth plate appearance of the night without a hit, Vazquez did not waste any time in greeting new Rays reliever Diego Castillo, as he led the bottom of the ninth off by crushing a solo shot 383 feet well over the Green Monster for his first big fly of the season.

That moonshot would pull the Red Sox back even with the Rays at three runs apiece, and it would ultimately set up the Martinez walk-off later on in the 12th.

Franchy Cordero makes leaping grab in left field

One key moment that cannot be lost in the shuffle of Tuesday’s drama was the play Franchy Cordero made to end the top half of the seventh inning.

With one out in the frame and runners on first and second, Rays centerfielder Manuel Margot lifted a flyball to left that was on the cusp of bouncing off the Monster before a leaping Franchy Cordero robbed the former Red Sox prospect of extra-bases.

There was some confusion as to whether Cordero caught the ball or trapped it against the left field wall, and that confusion allowed the outfielder to double off one of the runners — Arozarena — at second base to end the inning.

The Rays disputed the call on the field by challenging it, but it was upheld by replay review.

Next up: Eovaldi vs. Yarbrough

Next up for the Red Sox, it’s the finale of this three-game series on Wednesday afternoon, so it’s certainly a quick turnaround.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is slated to get the ball for Boston, and he will be opposed by left-hander Ryan Yarbrough for Tampa Bay.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on YouTube. Yes, you read that correctly. YouTube.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez, 15 pounds lighter than he was last year, aspiring to win first Gold Glove in 2021

Earlier this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora poked fun at a typical spring training cliché you hear every year in that a certain player showed up to camp in the best shape of his life. The player Cora was talking about in this case was Christian Vazquez.

“Christian put work in in the offseason,” Cora said Monday. “I know [WEEI’s Rob Bradford] always makes fun of me when I say ‘He’s in the best shape of his life,’ because everybody is. Well, you’ll see him. You’ll see the pictures. He is in the best shape of his life.”

While Vazquez has been at camp for the past week-plus, he talked to reporters for the first time this spring on Friday and went into more detail about what exactly he accomplished over the winter.

“I went out and improved everything,” the veteran backstop said via a Zoom call. “I improved my hitting, my body. [I wanted to] get in the best shape, the best I can do with my body. I want to catch all the games I can and help the team.

Vazquez, 30, is coming off a 2020 season in which he slashed a solid .283/.344/.457 to go along with seven home runs and 23 RBI over 47 games played, 42 of which came behind the plate.

As he alluded to, the Puerto Rico native is coming into spring training in better shape thanks in part to dropping a significant amount of weight during the offseason, which he feels will aid him throughout the upcoming 2021 campaign.

“I’ve lost like 15 pounds,” Vazquez said while giving credit to one of the Red Sox’ nutritionists for helping with his diet. “I’m lighter, I feel better, moving better behind the plate. I feel 10 years younger, so it feels good. It feels good.”

Given the fact that he feels as good as he has in quite a while, Vazquez would like to start as many games at catcher for the Sox as possible in 2021. And while playing a full 162 may be out of the question, the right-handed hitter would still prefer to contribute as much as possible.

“Like I said before, I don’t help the team on the bench,” said Vazquez. “That’s the pride I take everyday. Go to the ballpark and be in the lineup. I want to be there. I like to be on the field. Like, I need to be dead to be on the bench, brother. I like to be in the lineup everyday. They pay me for that, so why not? Take charge everyday behind the plate, help my pitchers, block all the balls. It’s the pride inside me.”

Taking that pride into consideration, one milestone Vazquez would like to reach as a catcher from Puerto Rico is to win a Gold Glove Award, which seemed like a given at the time of his call-up in 2014 due to his reputation as a defense-first backstop back then.

“I know for a fact that he takes it personal because Martin [Maldonado] has a Gold Glove. Roberto [Pérez] has two,” Cora said of Vazquez’s aspirations earlier Friday. “Obviously Yadi [Molina], he’s the king of the Gold Gloves on the island. So, it’s a position that since 1986 when Benito [Santiago] got called up with the Padres, we’ve been so consistent behind the plate. We’ve had so many good ones. And he wants to be in the conversation.”

Over the last two seasons, Vazquez ranks second in Catcher Framing (17) and third in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among qualified big-league catchers, per FanGraphs. He has also thrown out 31 of the 88 base runners (35%) who have attempted to steal off of him in that time frame.

“He’s one of the most complete catchers in the big leagues,” Cora stated confidently in regards to Vazquez’s ability at and behind the plate. “Offensively, he puts the whole package. But sometimes those awards are hard to come… He put in a good season last year. I think framing-wise he was good. Blocking-wise, throwing people out. Hopefully, people can recognize him this year and he can get one. I know he wants one.”

In order to see that potentially come to fruition this year, the Red Sox first have to take care of Vazquez so he is not overworked and can instead be the best version of himself when he takes the field.

“We want the best version of Christian Vazquez,” said Cora. “I think we got a pretty good chance to see it this year.”

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora says team has to be better defensively in 2021: ‘That’s the bottom line’

During his re-introductory press conference back in November, one of the things that Red Sox manager Alex Cora emphasized was that his team needed to catch up to the speed of the game heading into the 2021 season.

“As a manager, as a coaching staff, I think spring training is going to be a lot different than ’18, ’19,” Cora said in the fall. “I do believe we have to catch up with the speed of the game. You look around and you look at the Padres, you look at the Rays, you look at the Dodgers and how athletic they are and how fast the game is. We have to catch up with that.

“It starts in the offseason, obviously, with workouts, and then we get to spring training,” he added. “It’s not going to be what you saw in ’18, ’19, kind of like building up, building up. Yeah, we’re going to build up, of course, so we don’t get hurt. But, at the same time I think the drills are going to be more dynamic. It’s going to be more game-time stuff, and I think they’re going to have fun doing that. And if we do that and we catch up with the speed of the division and the other teams, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

A little more than three months later, and Cora and Co. are already implementing these dynamic changes into their spring training drills at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers. The Sox skipper said as much when speaking with reporters earlier Friday morning.

“Certain fields are dedicated for defense only,” Cora said via Zoom. “With the guidelines, we have to split them up. So, Fields 1 and 2 are going to be for infielders. Field 1 is going to be only for offense. Field 2 is going to be like a defensive lab. So they’re going to have machines, they’re going to be doing drills, everything is going to be defense. Fields 3 and 4 are going to be for outfielders. Same thing: One of the fields is going to be only for defense, the other one for offense. And for offense, too, they’re going to have cameras and they’re going to have Rapsodo and they’re going to have machines.

“It’s a way to get them up to what I want,” continued Cora. “And at the same time, with everything that is going on, to keep their minds away from the obstacles. Like I said yesterday, we’re lucky to be here. We’re lucky to be working, playing this game. I think we’re going to be more efficient as far as the work. We’re going to have a lot of stuff going on, which is cool.”

Cora added that additional fields will be reserved for pitchers and catchers, while newly-added turf close to the Red Sox clubhouse can be used for catching and infield drills and the batting cages can also be used for defensive work now that some nets have been taken down.

“It’s a pretty cool facility,” he opined. “You have to be open-minded, you have to be creative. We’re doing that and I think that’s going to help us to improve and get better.”

Aside from the COVID-19 protocols put in place by Major League Baseball for spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida, the driving force behind the Sox changing things up at Fenway South is to make defense more of a priority.

That being the case because over the last two seasons, both of which they failed to qualify for the postseason, Boston has put up rather pedestrian numbers.

They rank eighth in the American League in errors (133), seventh in fielding percentage (.984), ninth in defensive runs saved (-26), and sixth in ultimate zone rating (8.3) since 2019, per FanGraphs.

“We have to be better defensively. We have to be better defensively,” Cora said emphatically. “No doubt about it. That’s something championship teams do. I said, we have to be better than ’18 defensively, better than ’19, better than ’20. This is not about range factor or all that stuff that people measure, which is important. As far as first steps and angles going toward the ball, I’m going to challenge them to be better.”

The additions of versatile veterans like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez should aid the Sox on the defensive side of things, but the club will still be banking on players like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, and Christian Vazquez to pick up things on their end as well.

“We’re looking for these guys to improve their defense,” said Cora. “Raffy, Xander, Bobby at first base, Michael, Christian. We have to be better defensively. That’s the bottom line.”

(Picture of Alex Cora: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign veteran catcher Chris Herrmann to minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed veteran catcher Chris Herrmann to a minor-league contract, according to @iTalkStudiosYT on Twitter and confirmed by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. The deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Herrmann, 33, spent the majority of the 2020 season at the Giants’ alternate training site after signing a minor-league pact with the club in late July.

For his big-league career, which spans parts of eight seasons with four teams (Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Athletics), the Texas native owns a lifetime .205/.282/.344 slash line to go along with 25 home runs and 103 RBI over 370 total games played, more than half of which came with Arizona in 2016-2017.

While primarily a catcher, Herrmann — a product of the University of Miami and former 2009 sixth-round draft pick of the Twins — does have limited experience at first base as well as all three outfield positions.

In signing a minor-league contract with the Sox, the 6-foot, 200 lb. backstop will join a catching mix at big-league camp in Fort Myers that includes the likes of Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki, Connor Wong, Jhonny Pereda, and Roldani Baldwin.

Leading up to the start of spring training, it seemed like Boston was primed to add a veteran catcher in some capacity to fill the void left behind by Jett Bandy and Juan Centeno, and they have now done that by inking Herrmann for the 2021 season.

So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
C Chris Herrmann
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
INF Jack Lopez
INF Jeremy Rivera
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett
RHP Zac Grotz
RHP Jose Adames
RHP Matt Carasiti

(Picture of Chris Herrmann: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox catcher Deivy Grullón claimed off waivers by Reds

Before signing right-hander Matt Andriese to a one-year deal on Wednesday, the Red Sox needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster, which at the time was at full capacity.

Well, it turns out they accomplished this by placing catcher Deivy Grullon on waivers recently, and he was claimed off waivers by the Reds on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old backstop appeared in just one game for Boston this past season after getting picked up off waivers from the Phillies in early September.

In that one game, which came against Philadelphia in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader on September 8, the Dominican national went 1-for-3 at the plate with one walk, one RBI, and one strikeout while catching all seven innings.

Grullon was subsequently optioned back down to the alternate training site the following day, where he spent the rest of the season before returning to the Dominican Republic to play for Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican winter league.

Since reporting back home, Grullon has struggled a bit on both sides of the ball, as noted by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield.

With the Reds, Grullon will presumably slide behind Tucker Barnhart and Tyler Stephenson in terms of catching depth. He has two minor-league options remaining on his current contract.

As for how this affects the Red Sox, catching prospect Connor Wong is now without a doubt the No. 3 backstop on Boston’s 40-man roster behind Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki.

The 24-year-old was added to the 40-man in late November and is projected to begin the 2021 season with Triple-A Worcester.

Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong ‘made a lot of progress’ in 2020, Jason Varitek says

Of the three players the Red Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the infamous Mookie Betts trade back in February, catching prospect Connor Wong is undoubtedly the least well-known and the least heralded.

Alex Verdugo — the headliner of the deal for Boston — has the makings to be an All-Star caliber major-league outfielder, Jeter Downs is the organization’s top prospect, and then there’s Wong.

This isn’t to say the 24-year-old is not a talented prospect, because he is. So much so that MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the top catching prospect in the Sox’ farm system.

In his last minor-league season with the Dodgers in 2019, Wong posted a solid .281/.336/.541 to go along with 24 home runs and 82 RBI over 111 total games played between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa.

The majority of Wong’s playing time last year came behind the plate, but he also proved capable of playing multiple positions around the infield, which is something he did quite frequently at the University of Houston since he was originally recruited as a shortstop.

Despite that added dose of versatility, the Red Sox still view the 2017 third-round pick as a catcher primarily. Newly-promoted game planning coordinator and former Sox backstop Jason Varitek made that much clear when speaking with The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham last week.

“I saw him a lot, from spring training and spring training 2.0, and probably three weeks when he was on the taxi squad and around the team,” Varitek said of Wong. “He works extremely hard. He didn’t get in any [major-league] games, but he showed his abilities and made a lot of progress. He can play other positions, but I think he’s a catcher. There’s a lot there we can work with.”

Indeed, Wong did not appear in any games for Boston this past season, but as noted by Varitek, he still spent plenty of time around the club during spring training as well as parts of the summer and fall on account of being included on the 60-man player pool for the entirety of the 2020 campaign.

On top of that, the Houston native was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster earlier this month, so it would appear he is primed to make his major-league debut sooner rather than later.

With Wong being added to the 40-man, the Red Sox currently have four catchers — Wong, Deivy Grullon, Kevin Plawecki, and Christian Vazquez — on their major-league roster.