Kiké Hernández, Xander Bogaerts both homer as Red Sox top Mets, 6-3, for sixth straight win

Exactly two weeks out from the American League Wild Card game, the Red Sox continued their winning ways against the Mets to kick off their final homestand of the regular season.

Although they fell behind first, Boston fought their way back for a 6-3 victory over New York at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, marking their sixth straight win.

Eduardo Rodriguez, making his 29th start of the season for the Sox and his very first against the Mets, was sharp early on, but later fell off in what turned out to be another relatively short outing.

Over just 4 1/3 innings of work, Rodriguez allowed two runs — both of which were earned — on five hits and three walks to go along with five strikeouts on the night.

The veteran left-hander took a perfect game into the third inning, as he did not give up his first hit until yielding a two-out single to New York’s No. 9 hitter, Tomas Nido, in the top half of the frame.

While it appeared as though Rodriguez was well on his way to putting together a strong performance, things took a turn for the worse in the fourth when he loaded the bases with no outs before issuing a bases-loaded, run-scoring walk to J.D. Davis to give the Mets their first lead of the night at 1-0.

Michael Conforto followed by grounding another RBI single through the left side of the infield that scored Javier Baez and very well could have pushed across another had Enrique Hernandez not gunned down Pete Alonso at home plate from center field.

Hernandez’s seventh outfield assist of the season proved to halt the Mets’ momentum, as Rodriguez escaped the jam by recording the final two outs of the fourth in consecutive order.

At that point, the Red Sox lineup had struggled to get anything going against Rodriguez’s counterpart in Mets starter Marcus Stroman despite having their fair share of opportunities — particularly in the third inning.

There, with no outs and the bases full, Xander Bogaerts grounded into what was at the time a back-breaking 5-2-3 double play, which was followed by an inning-ending flyout off the bat of Rafael Devers.

Compounded with New York jumping out to a 2-0 lead in their half of the fourth, things were looking rather dire for the Boston bats, but they were able to bounce back in a tremendous way beginning in the bottom of that particular frame.

With two outs in the inning, Bobby Dalbec stayed hot by ripping a 104.5 mph line-drive double off the center field wall. Christian Vazquez followed by lacing another liner, though this one flew over the outstretched glove of a back-pedaling Kevin Pillar, took a bounce off the Green Monster, and brought in Dalbec to cut the deficit in half at 2-1.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, came back out for the fifth, though he gave up back-to-back hits to Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor that put runners at second and third with only one out.

That led to Red Sox manager Alex Cora giving Rodriguez the hook at that moment, as the 28-year-old ended his day having thrown 92 pitches (55 strikes).

In relief of Rodriguez, Cora first turned to the recently-recalled Ryan Brasier, who inherited a bit of a mess but got out of it by fanning Baez on three straight strikes before getting the dangerous Alonso to ground out to short.

With their lineup flipping over for a third time beginning in the middle of the fifth, the Sox continued to pound Stroman, as Hernandez clubbed a game-tying, 379-foot solo shot over the Green Monster (his 18th home run of the season, Kyle Schwarber drilled a hard-hit double to the left-center field gap, and Bogaerts capped it off with an act of redemption — mashing a 426-foot, two-run moonshot to left field.

Bogaerts’ 23rd homer of the year put the Sox up 4-2, but the star shortstop was not done there, as he — with the bases full and two outs in the sixth — plated two more on a 107 mph two-run double off Brad Hand to make it a 6-2 game in favor of Boston.

From there, after Brasier and left-hander Austin Davis combined to work a scoreless sixth inning, fellow trade deadline acquisition Hansel Robles took over and did the very same in the seventh.

Garrett Richards, on the other hand, served up a towering solo homer to Alonso in an otherwise clean eighth inning. He also got the first out of the ninth before Darwinzon Hernandez slammed the door on the Mets to preserve the 6-3 victory for the Sox, though the lefty did not pick up the save.

With the win, not only do the Red Sox extend their winning streak to six consecutive games, but they also improve to 87-65 on the season by doing so. The Blue Jays and Yankees also won on Tuesday, so the Sox maintain their 1 1/2 game lead over Toronto for the top Wild Card spot in the American League.

Next up: Sale vs. Walker

The Red Sox will hand the ball to ace left-hander Chris Sale as they go for the quick two-game sweep over the Mets on Wednesday night. Sale will be working on regular rest in just his second start back from the COVID-19 related injured list.

The Mets, in turn, will counter with right-hander and 2021 All-Star Taijuan Walker as they look to prevent the sweep from happening.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and ESPN.

(Picture of Xander Bogaerts: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Kiké Hernández earns American League Player of the Week honors

Red Sox utility man Kiké Hernández has been named the American League Player of the Week for the week of July 19-25, Major League Baseball announced Monday.

Hernández becomes the second member of the Red Sox to earn AL Player of the Week honors this season, joining J.D. Martinez — who did so in early April.

On the National League side of things, Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor — a former teammate of Hernández — was the recipient of Player of the Week honors after he posted an OPS of 1.433 in seven games against the Giants and Rockies.

In six games against the Blue Jays and Yankees this past week, Hernández went 10-for-25 (.400/.448/1.000) at the plate with four doubles, one triple, three home runs, nine RBI, and eight runs scored over 29 plate appearances while playing second base, shortstop, and center field.

The 29-year-old began his week with his first multi-homer game of the year in Buffalo, then came through in the clutch on more than one occasion at Fenway Park while the Yankees were in town.

On Thursday, with his side down to their final out and trailing 3-1 in the late stages of the ninth inning, Hernández laced a game-tying, two-run double off the Green Monster that scored both Alex Verdugo and Jarren Duran to knot things up at three runs a piece and set the Red Sox off for a walk-off 5-4 win in the 10th.

On Sunday, Hernández took center stage in the eighth inning of Boston’s dramatic come-from-behind victory over New York, as he ripped an RBI double off Yankees reliever Zack Britton that brought in Christian Vazquez to cut the Sox’ deficit down to one run and later scored what would turn out to be the winning run on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Xander Bogaerts.

Including what he has done over his last six games, Hernández is now slashing .244/.322/.467 (111 wRC+) to go along with 14 home runs and 39 RBI over 84 total games (357 plate appearances) in his first season with the Red Sox.

Hernández, who signed a two-year, $14 million deal with Boston in February, has proven to be a valuable component of what the club is trying to accomplish in 2021 and beyond.

Coming into play on Monday, the right-handed hitter out of Puerto Rico ranks 20th among qualified American League position players in fWAR (2.4) while leading all AL center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (12), per FanGraphs.

The fact that Hernández has been as solid as he has been at center field this season speaks to just how versatile he is, as he originally signed with the Sox to be the club’s everyday second baseman.

That being said, Hernández — who turns 30 in late August — will make just his second start and fifth overall appearance at shortstop in place of Xander Bogaerts in Monday’s series opener against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

First pitch between the 61-39 Red Sox and 49-46 Blue Jays is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Kiké Hernández: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox manage just 1 hit off John Means in Opening Day shutout loss to Orioles

For the first time since 1976, the Red Sox were held scoreless on Opening Day, as the club fell to the Orioles by a final score of 3-0 on Friday afternoon to kick off the 2021 regular season at Fenway Park.

Nathan Eovaldi made his first start of the season and second consecutive Opening Day start for Boston in this one, and he picked up where he left off last year in terms of performing well against Baltimore.

That being the case because on Friday, the veteran right-hander limited the O’s to just one run on four hits and one walk to go along with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings of work.

Eovaldi was not on the mound at the time he was charged with that one run. He had retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced leading up to the one-out mark in the top half of the sixth, at which point he got the hook in favor of fellow righty Matt Andriese on account of a relatively high pitch count.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 89 (54 strikes), the 31-year-old hurler turned to his four-seam fastball 52% of the time he was on the mound Friday, inducing five swings-and-misses while topping out at 98.6 mph with the pitch.

Ultimately hit with his first losing decision of the year, Eovaldi will look to rebound in his next time out, which should come back at Fenway Park against the reigning American League champion Tampa Bay Rays next Wednesday.

In relief of Eovaldi, Andriese came on in relief with a runner on and two outs to get in the top half of the sixth inning.

Making his Red Sox debut in this one, the 31-year-old walked the first man he saw in Trey Mancini on six pitches to put runners at first and second with still just only one out in the frame.

Andriese nearly got out of the jam on one of the very next pitches he threw following that free pass, as he got Anthony Santander to rip a hard-hit groundball to second baseman Enrique Hernandez — playing in a shift — for what looked to be the start of an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play. Just what the doctor ordered.

Instead, Hernandez, also making his Red Sox debut, had a difficult time corralling Santander’s groundball on a hop that allowed all Orioles runners to reach base safely. Hernandez was charged with a fielding error as a result.

That mishap allowed the top of half of the sixth to continue, and the Baltimore bats took full advantage of that when rookie sensation Ryan Mountcastle laced a two-run double off the Green Monster on a 3-2, 93.2 mph inside fastball from Andriese to give his side a 2-0 advantage.

Andriese managed to escape the sixth without yielding anything else and even worked a 1-2-3 seventh , but the damage had already been done.

From there, left-hander Josh Taylor managed to record just one out while surrendering another run on three hits to begin the top of the eighth before Austin Brice came on to clean up after Taylor by retiring the only two hitters he faced in order.

Japanese right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura, another Red Sox making their team debut on Friday, got the call for the ninth, looking to keep Boston’s deficit at a reachable three runs.

Making his major-league debut as well in this one after spending the first 10 years of his professional career overseas, Sawamura looked sharp with his four-seamer, splitter, and slider and allowed just one Oriole to reach base — a two-out double from Freddy Galvis — before getting Pedro Severino to ground out to second to retire the side and wrap up what was a solid 2021 debut.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a familiar foe in Orioles left-hander John Means, who was supposed to get the Opening Day nod for Baltimore last year but was held out of that start due to a “dead arm.”

Fast forward to Opening Day 2021, and Means was clearly on a mission on Friday.

The 27-year-old southpaw served up a leadoff single to the very first hitter he faced in Hernandez, but nullified that by picking off the Sox second baseman at first after he had slipped off the bag while retreating towards it on Means’ throw to first.

As simple as a play as it was, Means picking off Hernandez may have played a pivotal role in the way the rest of Friday’s contest played out.

From that point on, the O’s starter was dealt another leadoff base runner when Xander Bogaerts reached safely on a fielding error to begin the second, but then proceeded to mow down the next 18 Red Sox hitters he faced.

From the bottom of the second through the end of the seventh, Means did not allow a single man to reach base against him. There were certainly some close calls, like when Bobby Dalbec nearly barreled what would turn out to be a flyball out to left field in the sixth, but the All-Star hurler got through seven clean innings unscathed. Quite the way to kick off the new season.

In the eighth, with Means out and lefty reliever Tanner Scott in, the Sox did show some signs of life with Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez reaching base on a pair of walks.

Vazquez’s free pass came with two outs in the frame, and it brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Dalbec, ever the home run threat.

Rather than put the ball in the air, though, the 25-year-old slugger watched a first-pitch called strike whizz by, then whiffed at a 96 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate, and was caught looking on an 0-2, 97 mph heater on the outer edge of the strike zone to extinguish said threat.

In the ninth, J.D. Martinez collected his first hit of the season on a two-out double off Orioles reliever Cesar Valdez, but it went for naught as Bogaerts followed by lining out to right field to put an end to things on Friday with a final score of 3-0 in favor of Baltimore.

Some notes from this loss:

Alex Cora is now 0-3 on Opening Day as a big-league manager.

From Red Sox Notes:

Next up for the Red Sox, it’s the middle game of what is now a three-game weekend series following Thursday’s rainout.

Saturday’s pitching matchup will feature a pair of right-handers seemingly on the opposite ends of their careers, with Tanner Houck getting the start for Boston and veteran righty Matt Harvey doing the same for Baltimore.

Houck, 24, was not originally going to make the Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation out of spring training, but Eduardo Rodriguez being placed on the injured list resulted in the rookie righty getting called up from the alternate training site on Thursday.

Houck impressed upon getting called up to the majors for the first time last September, posting a 0.53 ERA and .443 OPS against over three starts spanning 17 innings of work. Neither of those three outings were against the Orioles.

Harvey, meanwhile, made the Orioles’ starting rotation out of camp after signing a minor-league deal with the club back in February.

The 32-year-old Connecticut native was once a star in the making with the Mets, but he has since regressed to the point where he is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he surrendered 15 runs over 11 2/3 innings pitched for the Royals.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN. Red Sox will be going for their first win of the season.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo talks hitting out of the two-hole, moving around the outfield

When Alex Verdugo emerged as the primary leadoff hitter for the Red Sox last August, he settled into the role nicely.

On the 2020 campaign as a whole, the 24-year-old outfielder slashed .304/.362/.442 with 13 doubles, two home runs, eight RBI, three stolen bases, and 12 walks in 152 plate appearances out of the No. 1 spot in Boston’s lineup.

Because he held his own in the leadoff spot in his first year with the Sox, it certainly appeared as though Verdugo had a decent chance to retain that role heading into the 2021 season. That is, until the Red Sox signed veteran utilityman Kiké Hernandez — Verdugo’s former teammate with the Dodgers — to a two-year, $14 million deal in February.

Since then, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had challenged Hernandez — who hit leadoff 88 times over six seasons in Los Angeles — to earn the role of Boston’s leadoff hitter this spring and the 29-year-old responded by clubbing three homers and posting a 1.042 OPS in Grapefruit League play.

With that in mind, it seems likely that Hernandez will bat leadoff for Boston in the club’s Opening Day contest against the Orioles on Thursday afternoon, while Verdugo will slide down to the two-hole.

While some may view this as a demotion of sorts for Verdugo, the left-handed hitter actually prefers batting out of the two-hole, as he explained during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria on Wednesday afternoon.

“I actually love the two-hole. I love it,” Verdugo said when asked which spot in the lineup he favors most. “I think the two-hole has always been a super comfortable spot for me to hit. Obviously, I didn’t mind if I led off this year or not but it’s just something that I think [Cora] wanted to give a go and try. I like it. I really do. I like the lineup. I like the depth that we have from 1-9. And I think wherever we hit, I hit, I think it’s all going to benefit us.”

Last season, Verdugo hit out of the No. 2 spot on just two separate occasions for former Sox skipper Ron Roenicke. He went 2-for-8 at the plate with a walk, an RBI, and a run in those two appearances.

For his career, the former second-round draft pick owns a lifetime .267/.301/.474 slash line to go along with seven home runs and 14 RBI in 144 plate appearances when serving as his team’s two-hole hitter.

Verdugo also discussed the role he expects to play in the Red Sox outfield this season. He explained that while he anticipates seeing the majority of his playing time come in center field, he is also aware that he could see time in right field as well depending on where the Red Sox are playing on a particular day or night.

In assuming more responsibility in center field, Verdugo will be taking over for former Red Sox outfielder and Gold Glove award winner Jackie Bradley Jr., who established himself as arguably the best defensive centerfielder in franchise history before signing with the Brewers earlier this month.

Bradley Jr. was someone who made a habit of making hard-to-make catches look routine in his eight seasons patrolling center field for the Sox from 2013-2020.

For Verdugo, who only logged eight innings in center field last season, those are certainly sizable shoes to fill, but the Arizona native is not worrying about that too much.

“To me, it’s another outfield position,” Verdugo said in regards to center field. “Everybody talks about how you have to be the fastest guy, all that. I don’t believe in that. I don’t think you have to. I think it’s about your initial jumps, your reactions, and your routes to the ball. I feel like I have good instincts out there. And for the most part, I can read a hitter’s swing pretty well and know what our pitcher is trying to do and have a good idea of where I need to be.

“I don’t have a problem with bouncing around. Right, left, center, or any of it,” he added. “When I get out there, the only priority is to catch the ball and run it down.”

In his last season with the Dodgers in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and logged 475 2/3 innings in center field.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the 6-foot, 205 pounder was worth positive-4 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 1.1, which translates to an UZR of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

Verdugo was also worth zero outs above average over that same span, per Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average defensively at that position two years ago.

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

Red Sox’ Marwin González homers from each side of the plate against Twins, Alex Cora says ‘we’ll play him against lefties and righties whenever we have the chance’

During his pregame media availability on Thursday morning, Alex Cora made the point of saying that Marwin Gonzalez was going to be important to not only what the Red Sox do on the field in 2021, but what they do off the field as well.

Gonzalez made his sixth start of the spring for Boston against the Twins at Hammond Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

Batting out of the two-hole behind fellow newcomer Enrique Hernandez, the soon-to-be 32-year-old switch-hitter showed why he can be a valuable addition for a club with championship aspirations by going 2-for-2 at the plate with a pair of home runs, his first two of the spring.

He also stole a base after getting hit by a pitch in the fourth inning.

In his first at-bat, Gonzalez was matched up with Twins starter Matt Shoemaker, a right-hander, so he naturally hit from the left side of the plate with one out and nobody on in the top half of the first inning.

After watching a first-pitch sinker whiz by his knees for a called first strike, Gonzalez did not waste any more time, as he took an 0-1, 77 mph slider right down Broadway and deposited it 406 feet into the left field seats.

His first big fly of the spring — and in a Red Sox uniform — traveled 406 feet off the bat with an exit velocity of over 107 mph, per Baseball Savant.

Fast forward to the fifth, after the bottom of the Sox lineup had been productive with two outs and Hernandez collected an RBI on a run-scoring single, Gonzalez came to the plate once more, this time matched up against Twins southpaw Devin Smeltzer.

The versatile Venezuelan — hitting right-handed this time around — again watched the first pitch go by for a called strike, then proceeded to foul off a curveball to put himself in a quick 0-2 hole.

The third pitch from Smeltzer was an 87 mph heater at the top of the zone, right around the same area his catcher wanted it.

Despite accurately locating the pitch, Gonzalez was ready for it, as he demolished that fastball from Smeltzer and sent it 372 feet to left field, well far enough for his second home run of the afternoon.

This one was good for three runs and had an exit velocity of 101 mph.

Gonzalez’s day would come to an end a half inning later with Jonathan Arauz replacing him at second, but the damage had already been done considering the fact the former Twin was responsible for four of the five runs the Sox scored in what would turn out to be a 5-4 victory over Minnesota in eight innings on Thursday.

“He’s a good player,” Cora said of Gonzalez following the win. “We always talk about versatility and all that and it’s a good at-bat. It’s a good at-bat from both sides of the plate. He’s been very consistent throughout his career. We’ll play him against lefties and righties whenever we have the chance and whenever we find a matchup that we like, or to protect other guys.”

The Red Sox signed Gonzalez to a one-year, $3 million deal last month with the idea that he can play a plethora of defensive positions given his pedigree as a utility man.

In two seasons with the Twins alone between 2019 and 2020, the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder saw time at every position besides, pitcher, catcher, and centerfield.

“That’s the beauty of this, he can get a lot of at-bats playing at first, playing at second, giving Xander [Bogaerts] an off-day, even [Rafael Devers],” Cora added. “He’s been working hard with [Tim Hyers]. It was a tough year for him last year. In ’19, he hit the ball hard. He was top of the league in hard-hit balls. So, just put him in a good spot physically and just let him play. He enjoys playing the game and I’m happy that he’s with us.”

As previously mentioned, Hernandez had a front row seat to what Gonzalez did on Thursday since he was hitting ahead of him in Boston’s lineup.

The two were signed by the Red Sox over the winter for similar reasons, and Hernandez went into detail about what his versatile counterpart can bring to the table.

“He definitely won the MVP of the day today,” Hernandez said while praising Gonzalez’s performance at the plate. “I don’t think there’s going to be a player in baseball with a better day than he had today. Marwin’s a great player. Everybody knows that.

“Last season, it’s a little hard to dictate on players based off a 60-game season,” added Hernandez. “I would guarantee that he’s going to do better this year than he did last year. Also the fact that he can help us on both sides of the ball. Defensively, his versatility, he’s a plus-defender everywhere he plays. He can run the bases just like he did today. He got a great read on a dirt ball and he took off before the catcher or the infielders knew he was running, and he was able to get an extra 90 feet for us.

That’s going to be huge, especially with our lineup,” he continued. “Everybody can do damage. And a lot of times I feel like in Fenway, being at first, you’re already in scoring position, but the extra 90 feet are always huge.”

Given the versatility both Hernandez and Gonzalez — among other position players — can provide, Cora said the Red Sox could very well begin the 2021 season with 14 pitchers and 12 position players on their Opening Day roster.

“These two guys, and others, they help us to accomplish that,” Cora explained.

(Picture of Marwin Gonzalez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora leaning on Kiké Hernández, Marwin González for more than just their versatility

The Red Sox brought in Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez to provide versatility on the field and in the lineup. That much is true.

What is also true, however, is that the pair of veteran utilitymen were signed by Boston for their sage wisdom and leadership abilities as well.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has prior connections with both players. He’s known Hernandez since the former Dodgers fan favorite was a kid growing up in Puerto Rico and he served as Gonzalez’s bench coach with the Astros in 2017.

Given those connections, it’s safe to assume that Cora played a role in recruiting both Hernandez and Gonzalez, both of whom won World Series with their previous clubs, to Boston and ensured that the two would not only play key roles on the field, but off the field as well.

“There’s something about those guys and the experience of being with winners that they can add to the equation here,” Cora said Thursday. “As you know, my expectations are the same as the fanbase and it’s to play in October and win a championship. Guys like that, when they talk in the clubhouse and they talk baseball, it’s loud and clear.”

As Cora put it, Hernandez, 29, and Gonzalez, who turns 32 on Sunday, have the “green light” to speak up in the clubhouse in order to help those around them.

One way in which those two are already utilizing that green light is by talking with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts about their defense.

“They connected with Raffy already,” said Cora. “You can see those two — Marwin and Enrique — talking to him a lot about defense. And it’s a tradeoff. The way they see it is like, ‘OK, we’ll help Xander and Raffy defensively, they’ll help us offensively. And we’ll be good.’ So, it’s a good tradeoff.”

For some veterans, being put in Hernandez’s and Gonzalez’s position would not be easy simply because of the fact they are new to an organization and are already being asked to undertake a vocal leadership role.

Despite that potential hurdle, Cora did not seem all that concerned that the two versatile infielders/outfielders would have any difficulty in familiarizing themselves with their new teammates.

“I told them straight up: We have a bunch of humble kids here,” the Sox skipper recounted. “Like I told you guys in ’18, I think the eye-opening thing about that team was the media during the playoffs was like, ‘They’re just such good kids and they’re such a good group.’ Like I told you guys, I wanted them to be cocky and go out there and do your thing in ’18. I had to push these guys to be something else, like if you hit a home run, enjoy it.

“It’s not the same group, but we still have two very good kids at shortstop and at third base,” he added. “I think these guys are going to push them to be leaders and push them to speak to the group. They know already, and they have the confidence of the manager — not only on the field, but off the field — and I think that means a lot. Whatever they have on their mind, they always come up to me and I tell them that’s a good way to put it or I tell them not to do it.

“They know they have my support in anything they want to do in the clubhouse.”

(Picture of Rafael Devers, Enrique Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez, and Xander Bogaerts: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Nick Yorke, the youngest player at Red Sox camp, makes solid first impression in spring debut

Red Sox infield prospect Nick Yorke was in the midst of his senior year at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose at this time one year ago.

On Monday afternoon, the 18-year-old made his spring training debut for the Sox as a defensive replacement at second base for Marwin Gonzalez in the fifth inning of a Grapefruit League contest against the Braves.

Playing the final three innings of Monday’s eventual 5-3 loss to Atlanta, Yorke got the chance to step up to the plate for the first time with one out in the bottom half of the fifth.

His opposition? Only Braves right-hander A.J. Minter, who is coming off a 2020 season in which he allowed just two earned runs over 22 relief appearances and 21 2/3 innings pitched.

Going up against that caliber of competition is no easy task, especially for a teenager who had not gotten a legitimate, in-game at-bat in well over a year.

Having said that, Yorke held his own, and after looking at and fouling off a handful of pitches, golfed a single to right-center field that found a nice patch of grass to land on.

Fast forward to the seventh, and the California native again showed discipline at the plate by drawing a walk to cap off what was an impressive 2021 debut.

“That was the highlight of the day, having that kid play,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Yorke during his postgame media availability. “It’s funny because I told him before the game, ‘Hey, you’re playing second base.’ He’s like, ‘Ok, cool.’ I asked him, ‘Are you nervous?’ He’s like, ‘Nope.’ I said, ‘Ok, good for you.’ I was probably more nervous for him, so that’s a good sign.”

Boston selected Yorke with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft last June, which at the time was viewed as a somewhat surprising selection considering the notion he was not projected to go that early.

Since then, though, the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing second baseman has been turning heads on a consistent basis — whether it be at the Red Sox’ alternate training site or fall instructional league — to the point where he is entering the 2021 season as Boston’s ninth-ranked prospect according to Baseball America.

He’s also entering the 2021 season in better shape than he was in the fall, as he explained when speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon.

“In Pawtucket (alternate site) and instructs I wasn’t in the greatest shape,” Yorke explained. “Going into my first offseason, we made a goal to lose 10-15 pounds before I came back, and just focusing on that I came back and lost 25 (pounds).”

Yorke, who turns 19 in just over a month, is far and away the youngest player at Red Sox camp. While he may not be playing for a spot on the club’s Opening Day roster this spring, he is using this time to learn as much as possible by following around the likes of Enrique Hernandez and Xander Bogaerts.

“I’m working out with all the big-league infielders and just trying to be a sponge,” he said. “They’ve been in this game a lot longer than me, so I’m just trying to take what I can from them and piece this thing together.”

Cora himself echoed this same sentiment as well in regards when detailing why Yorke is at major-league spring training in the first place.

“He’s here to learn,” said the Sox skipper. “He’s here to be around big-leaguers and learn how to act in the clubhouse and be a professional, but you can see. He controlled the strike zone, controlled his at-bats.”

One thing that aided Yorke in his ability to control the strike zone and his at-bats on Monday was the fact that he did not let his nerves get to him, which is something the Red Sox coaching staff helped him with in getting him ready for in-game action.

“Once they said, ‘Play ball,’ I was ready to go,” Yorke said. “We haven’t been able to play on the field a lot the last year, so to get on the field, it’s just exciting. You get to go do what you love. I didn’t have a lot of nerves. It’s baseball at the end of the day. It’s just a game. I was just trying to go and have some fun.”

Listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds, Yorke is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem, whose season is slated to begin on May 4.

For the time being, though, Yorke is looking forward to continuing to show what he’s got under the watchful eyes of Red Sox management these next few weeks in southwest Florida.

“Any opportunity they give me to touch a baseball field, I’m going to try to run away with it,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity and just trying to get better.”

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Newest Red Sox utilityman Marwin González takes pride in his versatility, carries up to five different gloves with him

When Marwin Gonzalez made his major-league debut for the Astros in 2012, the utility role was not looked on as fondly as it is today.

Back then, instead of regularly deploying players who could play a number of positions, clubs would typically start the same nine guys at their respective positions while more versatile options were left on the bench.

Now, Major League Baseball has become a hotbed for players capable of playing multiple positions around the infield and outfield.

The Red Sox put this practice to the test this offseason by signing the likes of Gonzalez and Enrique Hernandez — both of whom have seen time at at least seven defensive positions over the course of their careers — to one- and two-year deals, respectively.

“I think the game has changed a lot by altering things and carrying guys like us that can play multiple positions,” Gonzalez said when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron on Friday. “I’m happy. Because when I got to the big-leagues, it was basically the nine starters were the guys playing almost 162 games, so the guys on the bench didn’t have a chance.

“I’m happy that everything changed and it kind of opened the doors for guys like Kiké and I to do what we do,” he added. “You see pretty much everybody trying to do the same and carrying guys that can play all over the place. I think for a manager, it kind of makes it easy because they can carry an extra pitcher, and it’s better for the whole team.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora alluded to this on Thursday when discussing the roster flexibility that Gonzalez and Hernandez can provide the club this coming season.

“To have Enrique and Marwin on the same team, just being creative. People talk about creative teams and how cool it is. Well, we have a cool team, too,” said Cora. “They’re going to help us a lot. They know how to play defense. Whenever they play, you’re not worried about them making the right decisions, throwing to the right base, being in line of the cut-off man. Both of them, they’re really solid. We’re going to ask them to do a few things in the clubhouse, too.”

Gonzalez, who turns 32 in March, is coming off a two-year tenure with the Twins in which he slashed .248/.311/.387 to go along with 20 home runs and 77 RBI over 167 total games played between 2019 and 2020.

The switch-hitting Venezuelan also played 35 games at first base, 23 games at second base, 63 games at third base, one game at shortstop, 18 games in left field, and 52 games in right field in his time in Minnesota. So it goes without saying that he wears many different hats, or in this case, gloves.

“I have four game gloves and I practice with another one — I don’t like to practice with my game gloves,” said Gonzalez. “I carry five gloves, but in my locker I have like seven to nine gloves. I get new gloves and try to get them ready for the next year or mid-season, something like that.

“Sometimes, I have to ask one of my teammates if he can carry one or two gloves because there’s not enough room in my bag,” he continued. “That’s kind of a hard thing for me to do. When we’re traveling, it’s a pain for me to pack my bags and put everything in my bags.”

(Picture of Marwin Gonzalez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox make Marwin González signing official, designate Marcus Walden for assignment

The Red Sox have officially signed veteran utilityman Marwin Gonzalez to a one-year contract for the 2021 season, the team announced Wednesday evening.

In order to make room for Gonzalez on their 40-man roster, Boston also designated right-hander Marcus Walden for assignment.

Gonzalez and the Red Sox originally agreed to a one-year pact for 2021 a little less than two weeks ago.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Gonzalez — who turns 32 in March — will earn a base salary of $3 million this year with the chance to earn up to $1.1 million in additional performance bonuses. There is no player, club, or dual option for a potential second year.

The Venezuelan switch-hitter had spent the last two seasons with the Twins and put up a .248/.311/.387 slash line to go along with 20 home runs and 77 RBI over 167 total games played. He also saw time at every defensive position besides center field in his time with Minnesota.

That versatile aspect of Gonzalez’s game will surely carry over to Boston as well, as the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder could line up to play both corner outfield spots while also serving as a left-handed complement to the right-handed hitting Bobby Dalbec at first base when needed.

With the additions of Gonzalez and Enrique Hernandez, both of whom are already familiar with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, the Sox have put themselves in a position where they are set up to a bevy of lineup combinations and defensive platoons depending on who they are going up against on a given day.

As for Walden, the move to designate him for assignment comes more than four years after he initially signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox in December 2016.

Since then, the 32-year-old reliever has proven to be effective at the major-league level for an extended period of time.

Across 70 appearances out of the Boston bullpen in 2019, Walden posted a solid 3.81 ERA and 3.69 FIP over 78 total innings of work.

Coming off that successful campaign — his first full one in the majors — the California native figured to play an important role for the Sox in 2020, but he floundered to the tune of a disastrous 9.45 ERA and 8.59 FIP over 15 outings spanning 13 1/3 innings pitched in two separate big-league stints last year.

Even with a poor, truncated 2020 coming on the heels of a successful, full 2019, Walden’s leash appeared to be short as he is now without a 40-man roster spot for the time being.

The Sox will have seven days to either trade Walden, release him, or sneak him through waivers unless he is claimed by another club first.

With this transaction made, Boston’s 40-man roster remains at full capacity, which means more moves will need to be made in order to accommodate the likes of catcher Kevin Plawecki and outfielder Franchy Cordero, both of whom remain on the team’s COVID-19 related injured list.

(Picture of Marwin Gonzalez: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/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)