Kiké Hernández makes impressive shoestring catch, Marwin González starts double play with glove-hand flip as part of Red Sox’ win over Mariners

The Red Sox got a defensive boost from two of their newest, most versatile position players in Sunday’s 5-3 victory over the Mariners at Fenway Park.

In the top half of the third inning, Kyle Seager laced a fly ball off Eduardo Rodriguez that traveled 370 feet off his bat to right-center field.

Kiké Hernández, who started in center field for Boston on Sunday, had been playing Seager pretty straight up and started headed towards the triangle as if that is where the ball was going to end up.

Instead, a strong gust forced Hernández to make a quick adjustment while he was tracking the ball.

Rather than continue towards the triangle, he took a sharp right turn in front of the Red Sox bullpen and made a shoestring catch by the JetBlue sign in right-center for the final out of the inning.

“It’s very windy at the ballpark,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of the conditions at Fenway during his postgame media availability. “It’s playing different than two years ago or three years ago. It feels so windy out there. When he hit that ball, Kiké said that ball was going toward the triangle and it just stopped in the air and he had to reroute and make the play.”

Hernandez, who made his 15th start of the season in center for Boston on Sunday, was originally slated to start at second base in Cora’s initial lineup.

Alex Verdugo was to start in center field in the series finale, but he was scratched by Cora about an hour before first pitch on account of the hamstring cramp he sustained on Saturday and the wet conditions on a rainy Sunday.

Because of that, Hernandez moved from second base to center field in Cora’s lineup, while Christian Arroyo got the start at second.

The 29-year-old went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs run scored out of the leadoff spot for the Sox to close out the weekend. He is currently slashing .250/.295/.432 with three home runs and eight RBI through 22 games played thus far.

In the top half of the eighth inning, right-hander Adam Ottavino took over for Rodriguez and walked the first man he faced in Mitch Haniger with his team up two runs at 5-3.

On his very next pitch, though, Ottavino got out of a potentially-binding jam by inducing soft contact off the bat of Ty France.

France dribbled a grounder to the left side of the infield and while playing the ball on a bounce, Marwin Gonzalez ran in, fielded the ball with his glove-hand, and nonchalantly flipped said ball with his glove-hand to Arroyo at second base to start an impressive 6-4-3 double play.

“Marwin played excellent shortstop,” Cora said.

Of the 18 starts Gonzalez has made so far this season, only three have come at shortstop. The other 15 have come at first base (six), second base (four), third base (two), left field (two), and right field (one).

On the play in which Gonzalez was involved in his ninth twin killing of the year, Cora also liked what he saw from the second baseman who helped turn it in Arroyo.

“Not an easy play for the second baseman because you don’t expect that flip,” said the Sox skipper. “He stayed with it and was able to turn it.”

The fact that Arroyo was still playing after getting drilled in the left hand by a 93.8 mph fastball in the first inning was a somewhat awe-inspiring feat on its own.

The 25-year-old was clearly in discomfort after taking that heater off his glove hand, but he remained in the game until its conclusion. The X-rays he got on his hand came back negative.

“I told him just don’t worry about your at-bats,” Cora said. “If you can play defense, just grind it out, and he did.”

(Picture of Kiké Hernández: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Alex Cora attributes Red Sox’ 0-2 start to poor defensive effort: ‘The team’s that play good defense, they win ballgames. And the first two games, we haven’t done that’

The Red Sox are 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2012.

One reason as to why the Sox are off to such a slow start is the fact that they have managed to score all of two runs — both of which came in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Orioles — through their first two games of the new campaign.

While that early lack of offensive production may be concerning, there is something else that has been hampering this Red Sox team, and that would be their defense.

Even by placing an emphasis on defense throughout spring training by setting up “defensive labs” scattered around the backfields at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has seen his team commit two errors and even more miscues since first pitch on Friday afternoon.

Kiké Hernández had difficulty fielding a hard-hit groundball off the bat of Anthony Santander in the sixth inning of Friday’s contest.

At the time, neither the Sox nor Orioles had managed to bring in a run, but Hernandez’s blunder — which came with runners on first and second and one out in the frame — while playing second base allowed everyone to reach base safely.

On what could have been a much-needed inning-ending double play for Matt Andriese, the top of the sixth continued and Baltimore took full advantage of Hernandez’s error when Ryan Mountcastle laced a two-run double off the Green Monster to plate his side’s first two runs of the day. The Orioles would go on to win by a final score of 3-0.

A day later, defensive miscues continued to plague the Sox in right-hander Tanner Houck’s first start of the season.

After getting through the first 3 2/3 innings of Saturday’s contest in relatively easy fashion, the 24-year-old ran into a bit of trouble in the fourth when he issued a two-out walk to Rio Ruiz.

Houck followed by getting Austin Hays to hit a broken bat ground ball to a sprawling Rafael Devers over at third.

Devers, having chosen to go to second base as opposed to first for what should have been an inning-ending force out, instead overthrew an outstretched Marwin Gonzalez covering the bag.

Devers’ errant throw wound up in shallow right field, and it — as well as as a passed ball by catcher Kevin Plawecki — allowed both Ruiz and Hays to advance an additional 90 feet to put a pair of runners in scoring position, though they wouldn’t stay there long.

That being the case because the Orioles again took advantage of a Red Sox mishap when Maikel Franco smacked a two-run single through the left side of the infield to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead.

An inning later, after they had scored a run in their half of the fourth, the Sox had the chance to hold the Orioles at two runs for the time being, but ultimately failed to do so.

With two outs and a runner at third, Houck found himself just one out away from getting out of a bit of a jam, and it looked like he was going to do so when he got Santander to rip a sharply-hit ground ball to Xander Bogaerts at short.

Bogaerts, having just made a tremendous diving play to hold that runner at third, attempted to backhand Santander’s grounder while backtracking to his left, but failed to bring in the ball cleanly which allowed Santander to reach base safely and drive in the run.

Bogaerts certainly had a tough play to make when considering where he fielded the ball as well as Santander’s speed down the first base line, but it was still one that — if made cleanly — could have made a difference later on. For what it’s worth, it was not ruled an error.

“I think defensively, the two games, we haven’t been sharp,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Saturday afternoon. “We made some bad decisions. We didn’t make any plays. For us, it’s very important to play defense. The team’s that play good defense, they win ballgames. And the first two games, we haven’t done that.”

In Devers’ case, the 24-year-old is coming off a 2020 season in which he committed 14 errors, ranking tops among big-league third basemen in regards to number of errors committed.

The mishap Devers had in the fourth inning on Saturday is one that could have been avoided had he backed off and let Bogaerts field Hays’ grounder instead. That over-eagerness is something the Red Sox are hoping to correct sooner rather than later.

“He wants to make every play,” Cora said about Devers when asked about his defense. “He’s just got to make better decisions. We love the effort. That was a ball way to his left. He gets to it. But, you got to know who you got next to you and you have to make better decisions. Like I said, the effort is there. If he makes that play, it’s a great play. But, it’s an above-average play. I rather have them make the average play and move on to the next play and do that. So, we’ll keep working with him. I think we have to just make better decisions.

“It was a tough play, regardless. At second or at first,” added the Sox skipper. “Sometimes you make those great plays and you’re better off moving on to the next one, right? Because it’s a tough play to throw to first. It’s a tough one to throw to second. You can put yourself and the team in a bad spot.”

The Red Sox themselves are a few months removed from a 2020 season in which they committed the second-most errors (45) and compiled the seventh-worst Ultimate Zone Rating (-2.5) in the American League last year, per FanGraphs.

For Cora, defense is something he wants to see the Sox excel at. He has yet to see that through the first two games of the 2021 campaign.

“Out of the three phases of the game (hitting, pitching, fielding), the defense part of it is the one that has been disappointing in the first two games,” Cora stated.

(Picture of Rafael Devers: Maddie Meyer/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 manager Alex Cora hoping Xander Bogaerts can become ‘elite defender’ at shortstop

Xander Bogaerts has proven to be one of the best shortstops in all of baseball in recent years, but that’s not stopping Red Sox manager Alex Cora from wanting more out of the 28-year-old moving forward.

Bogaerts just wrapped up a 2020 campaign in which he finished 17th in American League MVP voting thanks to putting up a .300/.364/.502 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 28 RBI over 56 games played.

Impressive offensive production, per usual. However, the Aruban-born infielder put up rather unimpressive defensive numbers, as has been the trend since he made his first career Opening Day roster back in 2014.

Among 20 qualified major-league shortstops this past season, Bogaerts ranked 19th in Defensive Runs Saved (-5), which essentially means he cost the Red Sox five runs, and 13th in Ultimate Zone Rating (0.3).

Going back to 2014, the two-time All-Star has posted negative DRS totals in each of his last seven seasons with Boston, per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox, with Cora back at the helm, would like to see Bogaerts put it all together and become just as adequate with the glove as he is with the bat in his hands.

“Xander, for instance, when you talk about about the shortstops around the league and now you add [Corey] Seager to that equation, he’s up there with them,” Cora said of Bogaerts when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron earlier this week. “Maybe the next step for us is to push Xander to be a better defender — and he’s not a bad defender — but to become an elite defender.”

This isn’t the first time Cora has brought up Bogaerts’ need to improve defensively, either. The Sox skipper said something along these same lines at least year’s winter meetings in San Diego.

Now that he is back, perhaps Cora will get on his shortstop in a similar fashion to the way he got on Rafael Devers in 2019. Of course, Devers has his own defensive kinks to work out, and Cora spoke about that process with Caron, too.

“With Raffy, we know what we have to work with,” he said. Expect both Bogaerts and Devers to be a focal point at the start of spring training in February.

Red Sox’ Chaim Bloom values Bobby Dalbec’s versatility, is still confident in Rafael Devers’ defensive abilities at third base

Since making his major-league debut in 2017, Rafael Devers has tried to prove that he is capable of being a competent third baseman defensively, but has struggled thus far in doing so.

This past season alone, the 24-year-old logged 475 innings at the hot corner and was worth -6 defensive runs saved (DRS), the worst mark among qualified American League third baseman, according to FanGraphs.

Devers’ defensive difficulties have led to speculation that the Dominican-born slugger could eventually move over to first base, especially now with the emergence of Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec, who was called up for the first time in late August and saw the majority of his playing time come at first, is capable of playing both corner infield positions adequately, and the Red Sox certainly value his versatility moving forward.

That being said, don’t expect Devers and Dalbec to swap primary positions anytime soon, as Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom still has faith in the former’s abilities with the glove.

“We know Raffy is capable of a lot more than he showed in 2020,” Bloom said when speaking to reporters via Zoom Wednesday. “I think he knows that. Everybody who has seen him knows that. You guys know the bond Alex [Cora] has with him, and that is already something we’ve discussed in making sure that we’re doing everything we can to help him be in position to play a really good third base, as he has done in the past.

“I think the early indications, from the offseason, are that Raffy is preparing himself to do that,” added Bloom. “It was obviously a tough summer. The way the season started back up, he never really got going — he was never really in-sync defensively. He knows that, and now with an offseason ahead of us, we’re really optimistic that he’s going to come into the spring looking very different.”

Despite the hardships Devers endured at third base this past season, he still enjoyed moderate success at the plate as highlighted by his .845 OPS for the month of September.

With Cora back in the fold as Red Sox manager, Devers could in theory return to his 2019 form in which he led the American League in doubles (54) and total bases (359) while finishing 12th in MVP voting.

As for Dalbec, here’s what Bloom had to say about the 25-year-old former top prospect who looks primed to make his first career Opening Day roster next spring:

“With Bobby, we want to be able to maintain his ability to play both [corner infield] positions. I think the versatility is going to be great for him. That could be important on day one or it could be important in a year or two years. The fact that he is capable [of playing third] is huge. You never want somebody who has the ability to play other positions to be pigeonholed at first base.”

Per FanGraphs, Dalbec accrued 175 2/3 innings at first base and 15 innings at third base over the course of his rookie season. The former fourth-round draft pick made three errors, all of which came at first. He also hit eight home runs in 23 games, which equates to 56 homers over 162 contests.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo Picks up Team-Leading Fourth Outfield Assist in Sunday’s Loss To Yankees

The 2020 Major League Baseball season may just be 22 games young, but Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has already made quite the first impression with his new club.

After coming over in that blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in February, the 24-year-old is slashing .286/.342/.529 with seven extra-base hits, five of which being home runs, and eight RBI through his first 20 games with Boston.

More importantly, for this piece anyway, Verdugo leads the Red Sox in outfield assists and is actually in a three-way tie with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier and the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds for the most outfield assists in baseball with four on the year thus far.

That fourth assist for Verdugo came in Sunday night’s loss to the Yankees, when after fielding a softly-hit fly ball off the end of Mike Tauchman’s bat in the third inning while on the run, the left fielder worked against his momentum, spun 180 degrees, cocked back, and threw an absolute dart to Jonathan Arauz to get Tauchman at second base.

Per Statcast, Verdugo’s throw to second came out of his left hand at a whopping 81 mph and got back to the infield in just over two seconds.

The play, as fantastic as it was, may not have made too much of a difference by the end of Sunday’s contest, but it just goes to show how impressive Verdugo’s arm strength truly is, which makes sense when you consider the fact that he was a legitimate pitching prospect coming out of high school.

According to FanGraphs, Verdugo has been one of the better defensive outfielders in the American League so far this season, as the Arizona native ranks 11th among qualified AL outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (6) and 14th in UZR/150 (4.7).

When asked about this highlight play during his postgame media availability Sunday night, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Verdugo’s throw was “outstanding.” Indeed it was.