Saturday was a long day for Red Sox manager Alex Cora

Editor’s note: This is a bad title and I will try to be better next time.

The week leading up to Opening Day is typically one filled with optimism around baseball.

This year, though, as has been the nature of things since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic began last March, those days for the Red Sox are now filled with plenty of uncertainties as April 1 draws closer.

Earlier Saturday morning, Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed that reliever Matt Barnes had tested positive for COVID-19 and right-hander Matt Andriese was one of several players away from the team due to contact tracing protocols.

Barnes, who was vying for the role as Boston’s closer, took a COVID test on Thursday and got his positive result back on Friday shortly after throwing in a simulated game at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers.

Cora found out about the veteran hurler’s positive test shortly after arriving to JetBlue Park at around 7 a.m. Saturday morning.

While Barnes is not showing any symptoms, he will be away from the team for at least 10 days due to the protocols MLB has in place.

This means that the UCONN product will not be included on the Sox’ Opening Day roster and will miss a minimum of four regular season games before being cleared to return to action.

The fallout of Barnes’ testing positive resulted in a feeling of unease throughout the Red Sox’ clubhouse on Saturday.

“It’s nobody’s fault,” Cora said via Zoom. “That’s the first thing. They’ve been very responsible. We’ve been praising them throughout camp. It just happened. Today, you can feel… you don’t want to hear this. You start thinking about if something else happens or where we’re going to be in a few days. It’s not comfortable but, at the same time, if we keep doing the things we should be doing, the hope is we’re going to be fine as a group.

“It’s just one isolated quote-unquote incident. Let’s hope that’s the case,” he added. “But it’s a different mood, to be honest with you. It’s not a good feeling, but trusting the process, trusting our medical staff, trusting the testing system. We should be OK.”

Despite having a confirmed positive COVID case, Red Sox players and coaches who were slated to travel to Bradenton for the team’s Grapefruit League contest against the Pirates did, but only after taking a rapid COVID-19 test before the bus ride there.

Upon arriving at LECOM Park, not only did the Sox top the Pirates by a final score of 7-4 — which allowed Cora to triumph over his brother Joey, who is Pittsburgh’s third base coach — they also received some encouraging news later in the afternoon.

That being, of all the rapid tests the club’s traveling party took earlier in the day, none came back positive.

“Everybody who was here was negative,” Cora said during his postgame media availability. “We got the results throughout the day. Of course, there were people who stayed back. I’ll get those results, probably, on the way to Fort Myers.”

Taking those words into consideration, Barnes remains the only known player to test positive thus far, though that number could increase as Major League Baseball conducts conduct tracing with those on the Sox who were in close contact with the righty — including Andriese.

“We have a positive, but we did everything we’re supposed to do to keep moving forward,” said Cora. “Everybody was nervous at one point, but when we went through the whole thing, the whole process, you feel better.

“But we’re not out of it,” he continued. “We still have to wait for tonight and tomorrow and the next couple of days. But we got it in, we got our work in. We’ll do the same thing tomorrow. Hopefully we can do it the next three days and go up north.”

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the team at the moment on account of COVID-19, Cora has yet to name a starter for the Red Sox’ next Grapefruit League contest against the Twins at JetBlue Park on Sunday afternoon.

To put it simply, between Christian Vazquez suffering a contusion under his left eye on Thursday, Eduardo Rodriguez being scratched from starting on Opening Day on Friday, and Barnes testing positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, the past three days or so have been a real whirlwind for the Sox skipper. But he understands the problems he is dealing with don’t really compare to other things currently going on throughout the country and the rest of the world.

“This is bigger than sports,” Cora said. “We’ve been living through this since March last year. We’re doing the best possible to put a show out there for the fans and get their minds away from the pandemic. That’s the way I see it.”

(Picture of Alex Cora: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock makes Red Sox’ Opening Day roster; ‘His reaction was priceless,’ Alex Cora says

It goes without saying that Garrett Whitlock has been one of the feel-good stories at Red Sox camp throughout the spring.

Selected from the Yankees organization in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter, Whitlock came into camp with the proposition of having to stick on the Sox’ active roster throughout the entirety of the 2021 season or he would otherwise be offered back to his former club.

That may seem like a daunting task for a 24-year-old right-hander who hadn’t pitched in an organized minor-league game since 2019 and was working his way back from Tommy John surgery, but Whitlock has clearly been up to the challenge.

Through four Grapefruit League appearances this spring, the Georgia native has allowed just one earned run on eight hits and no walks to go along with 12 strikeouts over nine total innings of work.

To say Whitlock has been impressive would be an understatement, and he was informed on Thursday that he made the Sox’ Opening Day roster.

“Yesterday we informed Garrett Whitlock that he made the team,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced Friday morning. “With everything he’s done throughout camp, not only on the field but also the way he acts, the way he conducts himself. That adds to the equation, and we were very pleased to tell him yesterday.”

Whitlock, a former 18th-round draft pick of the Yankees out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2019. His recovery from the procedure coincided with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to be careful with him, obviously,” Cora said. “He’s a Rule 5 pick and he hasn’t pitched in a while. But everything we’ve seen has been good. So he’ll be with us. It’s another addition, and obviously we have to make decisions in the upcoming days, but I do believe this is a solid bullpen.”

While Cora added that the game will dictate how Whitlock will be used, it does seem likely that the lanky righty — despite having 38 career minor-league starts under his belt — will be used in a swingman role with more of an emphasis on pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen when needed.

The Red Sox are planning on carrying 14 pitchers on their 26-man Opening Day roster. For Cora, informing Whitlock that he would be one of those 14 pitchers was a very enjoyable experience.

“He can be a Rule 5 or a 10-year vet, but the way he threw the ball — you guys saw it — he’s getting better and better,” said the Sox skipper. “It’s one of those that as a manager, as a president of baseball operations, GM, whatever, it’s a great moment when you tell somebody that you’re going to be a big-leaguer.

“His reaction was priceless,” added Cora. “It’s all about him. The organization did their homework and we decided to draft him. From there on, it was up to him and he did everything possible to make the team. And I know he’s not going to stop. Trying to keep getting better, studying the game, doing all the right things for him to get to the next level.”

It’s been a unique journey for Whitlock to get to where he is today being on the cusp of making his major-league debut at some point next month.

The 6-foot-5, 190 pound hurler mentioned earlier this spring that getting “to play a kid’s game for a living” is extremely fun and that he’s looking forward to embracing whichever role he is given with his new team out of the chute.

“My college coach told me the best pitching advice I’ve ever had,” Whitlock said while reflecting on his time at UAB. “And that was: ‘When they hand you the ball to go get outs, you go get outs until they come take the ball away from you.’ And so whatever role that is, that’s always going to be my mindset.”

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Eduardo Rodriguez lasts just 2 innings in start against Rays, tosses 2 more simulated innings in bullpen

In his first outing since being named the Red Sox’ Opening Day starter last week, Eduardo Rodriguez pitched just two innings in his fourth start of the spring against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

The 27-year-old allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout over those two innings of work in Port Charlotte.

By the time Rodriguez had recorded the final out of the second, his pitch count had already reached 46, so rather than go back out there for a third inning, the decision was made for the left-hander to get the rest of his work in via a bullpen session in which he threw two simulated innings.

“I was a little bit out of command and threw too many pitches in those two innings,” Rodriguez explained during his in-game Zoom call with reporters. “So we talked in the dugout if I want to go back there or go to the bullpen and finish the work over there. I just go to the bullpen and finish the work over there.”

While citing that the Rays are a team he could see a lot of this season as a reason for why he did not pitch particularly deep into Monday’s contest, Rodriguez dismissed the notion that he is dealing with dead arm at this point in the spring.

In fact, he actually acknowledged that the type of performance he put together on Monday is one he likes to have from time to time during the spring so he can gauge where he is at.

“Today was one of those days I really like to have, especially in spring training,” said the Venezuelan southpaw. “Because then you know where the pitches are, what you have to keep working on. It was kind of a good day to learn from.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora acknowledged that while Rodriguez is healthy, the starter did not have a great week of preparation leading up to Monday’s outing.

“It’s one of those that during spring, you can see how they feel stuff-wise,” Cora said. “Throughout the week, it’s not like he’s hurt or whatever, but he didn’t look great. You hit the wall throughout. That’s part of spring. So let him face the lineup once and finish up in the bullpen. He didn’t look great either location-wise. So we just took care of him.”

Through his first four starts in Grapefruit League action, Rodriguez has yielded five runs (four earned) on 11 hits, two walks, one hit batsman, and 15 strikeouts over 13 2/3 total innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 2.63 and WHIP of 0.95.

If all goes according to plan, Rodriguez will make one more spring start against the Pirates on Saturday before the regular season begins.

Rodriguez, a veteran of five major-league seasons, has long awaited to start for the Red Sox on Opening Day.

When he takes the mound at Fenway Park to face off against the Orioles on April 1, it will mark his first regular season big-league start since the final day of the 2019 season. He missed the entirety of the shortened 2020 campaign after contracting myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) following a bout with COVID-19 while at home in Florida last July.

“It feels amazing,” Rodriguez said in regards to being Boston’s Opening Day starter. “To have the chance after all those legends who have been the Opening Day starter. So for me, it feels really good to be part of it.”

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino continue to impress in spring outings, but Red Sox in ‘no rush’ to name closer, Alex Cora says: ‘Whenever we make the decision, we will’

Red Sox relievers Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes both got some work in out of the Boston bullpen in the team’s 9-4 loss to the Pirates at JetBlue Park on Sunday afternoon.

Ottavino, responsible for the top half of the sixth inning, allowed one unearned run on one hit and a throwing error.

Barnes, responsible for the top half of the ninth inning, struck out two and needed all of 15 pitches to work a perfect frame of relief.

Following Sunday’s showing, the 35-year-old Ottavino carries with him an ERA of 0.00 and a WHIP of 1.38 through his first four appearances and 4 1/3 innings of the spring.

The 30-year-old Barnes, meanwhile, has also yet to allow an earned run over his first four outings and 4 1/3 innings of work this spring, though he has dealt with less traffic on the base paths than Ottavino has.

Together, the pair of veteran right-handers represent the top two — and really the only two — candidates to open the 2021 season as Boston’s closer.

Despite the fact that Opening Day is now just a little over a week away, Red Sox manager Alex Cora is in no rush to name either of Ottavino or Barnes as his ninth-inning man to kick off the new campaign.

“There’s no rush on doing this,” Cora said Sunday afternoon. “They know it. Right now, they’re working on their craft. Otto pitched the ninth one day, Barnesy did today. Different preparation for both of them. But we’re comfortable with the way they’re throwing the ball, which is good. And whenever we make the decision, we will.”

Neither Barnes (15 career saves) nor Ottavino (19 career saves) have an extensive background in closing out major-league games, but both are open to embracing the role this year, which is understandable since they both can become free-agents this winter.

Both relievers are coming off relatively down years for their standards in 2020, but Cora highlighted on Sunday how impressed he’s been with Barnes at big-league camp thus far.

“Threw the ball well. Good fastball,” Cora said of the UCONN product. “This looks like his best fastball in the last few years. Last year, as you guys know, his velocity was down. He’s been working hard to clean his delivery — more direct to the plate. And he’s been able to do that throughout.”

Per Baseball Savant, Barnes averaged 95.5 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2020, more than a mile per hour less than what he was averaging with it in 2018 and 2019 (96.6 mph). He’s also working on incorporating a splitter — a pitch he threw less than 3% of the time he was on the mound last year — into his repertoire.

“Especially since 2018, when they talk about us, it’s fastballs up, breaking balls down,” said Cora when discussing Barnes’ splitter. “And to have a different look — not only for lefties, I think for righties, too — is a good pitch. He threw it a few times throughout the years. In ’19 he tried it. I don’t know if it was more of a changeup, but it’s something that he always talked about. He’s looking for ways to improve, and the fact that he’s been using it more in spring training is a good sign.”

Barnes attributed the uptick in velocity he’s been enjoying this spring to the fact that he only threw 32 innings of relief last year over the course of the pandemic-shortened 60-game season. He had averaged 66 innings of work per year from 2016 through 2019.

“It’s really when I started playing catch during the offseason this year,” Barnes told reporters earlier this month. “I got to a point where the ball was coming out good — a lot sooner — I felt like because I only threw 23 innings, which is only 33% of a normal year’s workload. So when you take that into account, my arm feels fantastic. It almost feels like I didn’t even pitch last year. So I’m really happy with that; really happy with where I’m at right now.”

(Picture of Matt Barnes: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Christian Arroyo approached Red Sox about playing left field, Alex Cora says

Over the course of his professional career, Red Sox infielder Christian Arroyo has only known three defensive positions: second base, third base, and shortstop.

Since making his major-league debut with the Giants in 2017, the 25-year-old has played decent enough defense at all three positions, especially at second.

Last year alone, Arroyo was worth positive-2 defensive runs saved and posted an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 0.9 over 108 2/3 innings while patrolling second base for the Sox. That ultimate zone rating of 0.9 translates to 5.7 over 150 defensive games.

Despite being a surehanded second baseman, and infielder for that matter, the Florida native has surely seen what Boston has done over the course of the offseason in adding a number of versatile position players — like Marwin Gonzalez and Enrique Hernandez — and decided that he needs to add another dimension to his game as well.

That being the case because according to Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Arroyo approached the team at some point this spring to talk about playing some left field.

“We’re very comfortable with what he can do,” Cora said of Arroyo earlier Friday morning. “He can play second, he can play short, he can play third. The other day he went to [first base coach and outfield instructor Tom Goodwin] and he wanted to start working in left field, which is great.

“It’s something that he thought about,” added the Sox skipper. “I guess he looks around and sees Marwin and sees Enrique, and he’s like, ‘You know what? Maybe learning the outfield position can help me throughout my career.'”

On the other side of the ball, Cora, who has known Arroyo since he unsuccessfully recruited him to play for Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, has been thoroughly impressed with what he’s seen from the former first-round pick at the plate thus far in Grapefruit League play.

Following Friday’s 11-7 victory over the Rays in which he went 0-for-2 in a pinch-hitting capacity, the right-handed hitter is now slashing .273/.314/.485 with a pair of home runs and four RBI over 35 plate appearances this spring.

“He’s a good at-bat,” Cora said. “So let’s see where it takes us. But so far, what I saw on TV, what I’ve seen in video, this is a much better version of Christian. He’s in better shape, he can move better now, and he can do some things that I thought he wasn’t able to do the last few years.”

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom echoed this same sort of sentiment regarding Arroyo, who used to play for the Rays, when speaking with WEEI’s Will Flemming and Rob Bradford earlier this week.

“He looks, to me, better than at any point that we had him when I was with the Rays,” Bloom said of the young infielder on Wednesday. “Body-wise, he came in looking good. And I’ve seen him — whether it was last year or this spring — drive pitches that I didn’t see him drive in the past and just hit them harder.”

Because he is out of minor-league options, Arroyo will have to make the Sox’ Opening Day roster or he will otherwise have to be exposed to waivers if the club wants to send him to Triple-A.

With that in mind, Arroyo and fellow right-handed hitting infielder Michael Chavis are projected to occupy the final two spots on Boston’s bench to kick off the 2021 campaign.

The pair of 25-year-olds have been enjoyable to watch on the field and in the clubhouse at the Fenway South complex, per Cora.

“We’re very pleased with the way [Christian’s] swinging the bat. We’re very pleased with the way Michael is swinging the bat,” Cora said. “Being able to catch up with some pitches in the zone — being disciplined enough. So it’s fun to see them playing this way. It’s fun to see them in the clubhouse, in the drills, helping each other out, and that’s what it’s all about.”

(Picture of Christian Arroyo: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock shaping up to be potential ‘secret weapon’ for Red Sox pitching staff

It wasn’t too long ago that Garrett Whitlock was at a crossroads in his professional baseball career.

The lanky right-hander — originally selected by the Yankees in the 18th round of the 2017 amateur draft out of University of Alabama — had his 2019 season cut short after undergoing Tommy John surgery that July.

He didn’t know it at the time, but Whitlock had pitched in his last game as a member of the Yankees organization on July 3, 2019 as his recovery from Tommy John coincided with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The deadline for clubs to add Rule 5-eligble players to their 40-man rosters came and went in November, and Whitlock — who was eligible — was not added by New York, meaning he was now eligible for the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.

The following month, the 24-year-old was taken off the board by the Red Sox, breathing new life into his baseball journey as a kid from Snellville, Ga.

By being selected by Boston in the Rule 5 Draft, Whitlock was now tasked with making Boston’s Opening Day roster out of spring training and sticking there for the entirety of the 2021 season or he would otherwise have to be offered back to his former club.

Prior to joining the Red Sox over the winter, Whitlock had primarily served as a starter in his time with the Yankees organization, but given the fact his new team is flush with starting pitching depth, a spot in Boston’s Opening Day rotation was essentially out of the question.

Instead, the 6-foot-5, 190 pound righty was to be made a swingman of sorts who could pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen or make a spot start or two when needed.

He was to still be stretched out over the course of the spring, but not with the intentions of being a fulltime starter once the season begins.

Thus far, handing down that role to Whitlock has netted nothing but positive results at big-league camp in Fort Myers.

Through his first four Grapefruit League appearances, the Georgia native has yielded just one earned run on eight hits, no walks, and 12 strikeouts over nine total innings of work, most recently fanning five Rays hitters over three scoreless, no-hit frames at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon.

“What Garrett did today, that was impressive,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “But he’s been doing that the whole spring. It’s a good fastball. He’s able to elevate with it late in counts, and it was a great day for him.”

For someone who had not pitched in a competitive environment in nearly two years, the way in which Whitlock has gone about his business on and off the mound has stood out to Cora.

“He was hungry to compete,” said the Sox skipper. “He hasn’t been able to compete in a while. And he’s bought into the concept of the things that we do here, and he’s executing. He’s very talented… He watches every bullpen, he watches the B games, he goes to sim games, and he goes to the dugout when he’s not pitching. That makes you a better baseball player, and in his case it makes him a better pitcher.

“I think it’s that confidence that he has,” Cora added. “First of all, we trust him, right? Because we decided to pick him in the Rule 5 after coming from surgery. Second, with the things that we’re preaching and what he’s doing, he has to feel great. But one thing about him, he’ll show up tomorrow and he’ll ask a question: ‘What can I do better?’ That’s the key of this thing and he’s done that the whole camp.”

Working the sixth through eighth innings of Friday’s contest against the Rays, Whitlock, donning the No. 72, was one of three pitchers who relieved starter Nathan Eovaldi.

A fellow right-hander who knows the ins-and-outs of Tommy John surgery, it’s safe to say Eovaldi has been impressed with what he’s seen from Whitlock so far at camp.

“I’m very excited for him,” Eovaldi said during his in-game media availability. “The first time I saw him throw at spring training, it was early in camp and I was impressed. He’s got a great changeup, he’s got great command, he’s quiet, he’s very quiet and determined to be a part of this team, and he’s going about his business the right way.

“So I’m not surprised with what he’s been able to do out there on the field just because of the way he’s handling himself in and around the clubhouse and out there in the bullpen,” the fireballer added. “He’s kind of our secret weapon right there, so he’s looking great.”

Whitlock himself is not taking anything for granted this spring. He explained on Friday how undergoing Tommy John surgery changed his perspective on multiple facets of his life — including his faith — and how he is just overjoyed to be playing baseball for a living.

“When you have an operation like Tommy John, it’s never given that you’re going to play again,” he said. “I promised to myself that if I was going to get a second chance and I was going to be back out on the field, I would never take a day for granted again. Because every little kid’s dream is to play professional baseball, and I don’t care if it’s in the [Gulf Coast League] level or the major-league level, I get to play a kid’s game for a living. It’s so much fun.”

Given how he has performed this spring, Whitlock, as previously mentioned, is a sure bet to make the Sox’ Opening Day roster as a swingman/hybrid-type reliever who can also start when necessary.

Regardless of what role he undertakes beginning April 1, though, Whitlock will just be going out there to do his job, or in other words, get outs. That is something that was drilled into him during his time at UAB.

“My college coach told me the best pitching advice I’ve ever had,” he recalled. “And that was: ‘When they hand you the ball to go get outs, you go get outs until they come take the ball away from you.’ And so whatever role that is, that’s always going to be my mindset.”

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Taking stock of where Red Sox stand 2 weeks out from Opening Day

Two weeks from Thursday, the Red Sox open their 2021 season against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park for what hopefully is the first game of a full 162-game slate.

Because Opening Day is exactly two weeks away and spring training is more than halfway over, it’s a good time to take stock of where the Sox stand heading into the new season. Let’s get to it.

Starting rotation:

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will make his first career Opening Day start and pilot a five-man — not a six-man — starting rotation to kick off the year for the Sox.

Based off the way the club’s presumed starters have been used so far this spring, it’s fair to assume that Boston’s five-man rotation will start with Rodriguez, then right-handers Garrett Richards and Nathan Eovaldi, left-hander Martin Perez, and end with right-hander Nick Pivetta.

Tanner Houck, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects who impressed in three starts with the big-league club last season, was viewed as a potential Opening Day rotation candidate. But he has since been optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where he will likely start the 2021 season.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo earlier this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora is “pleased” with what he has seen from his starters since spring training began last month.

“It’s a solid one,” Cora said of the team’s starting rotation on Tuesday. “Everybody has their strengths, obviously they have their weaknesses. We have changeups, we have fastballs at 97 (mph), we have breaking balls. It’s not just velocity, either. For certain teams, you know you’re going to get from 97 to 100 (mph) and you prepare for that. With us, it’s going to be a little different. The constant is we can get people out in the strike zone. It doesn’t matter what stuff you have. We’ve been preaching that and they’ve been doing a good job with us.”

While Houck will more than likely start the year in Worcester, the 24-year-old righty could very well get called up again sooner rather than later.

With Houck beginning the season in the minors and swingmen like Matt Andriese and Garrett Whitlock beginning the season in Boston’s bullpen, the Red Sox certainly have a plethora of starting pitching depth, which is something they haven’t had much of the last two years.

“That’s what makes this group a solid one, because we have options,” Cora said about the club’s rotation depth. “We do believe whatever route we take, it’s going to be a good one. Also, we’re going to have people who are capable of stepping in whenever we need them

“The difference is we’re deeper this year than in previous years,” he added. “And that’s a testament to where we’re at as an organization and what we did during the offseason.”

Bullpen:

The Red Sox have yet to name a closer, though we do know the competition for the role is between right-handers Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes.

Ottavino, 35, has tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings out of the Boston bullpen so far this spring, while Barnes, 30, has yet to allow a run over 3 1/3 innings of work.

Both veteran relievers are slated to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign, so they should be plenty motivated to carve out a significant role for themselves going into their walk year.

Once we get past Barnes and Ottavino, who figure to see the lion’s share of work in late-inning spots, left-handers Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor figure to play key roles for Boston as well.

Like Rodriguez, Hernandez and Taylor were hindered by bouts with COVID-19 last season, though the two southpaws were able to pitch in a total of 15 games.

After Hernandez and Taylor, newcomer Hirokazu Sawamura and Andriese and Whitlock all figure to crack the Sox’ Opening Day roster assuming they are healthy.

Ryan Brasier would be in this mix as well, but it was recently revealed that the 33-year-old right-hander suffered a a small fracture below his right pinkie finger while working out back in November. That fracture put him behind schedule, and it more than likely means that the Texas native will start the season in the injured list.

With that in mind, Cotillo also wrote earlier this week that with two open spots left in Boston’s bullpen, “the three key competitors for those openings are Colten Brewer, Austin Brice, and Phillips Valdez.”

Brice, as Cotillo notes, is out of minor-league options, so that might give the right-hander an advantage over the likes of Brewer and Valdez, who do have options remaining.

“There’s competition,” Cora said of the composition of the Sox’ bullpen on Tuesday. “I can’t tell you if it’s one spot or two. We know we’re going with 14. We can do the math, and in the end, it’s probably one or two spots. It has been fun to watch. That’s the difference, too, this year compared to other camps. We actually have competitions in different spots. They’ve been doing an amazing job.

“First of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re competing with this guy or whatever, they’re helping each other to get better,” he added. “They’re producing on the field, doing everything right in the clubhouse and they’re making it hard on us to make decisions.”

Starting lineup:

The starting lineup the Red Sox drew up for Wednesday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Twins looked like this:

  1. Kiké Hernández 2B
  2. Alex Verdugo CF
  3. J.D. Martinez DH
  4. Xander Bogaerts SS
  5. Rafael Devers 3B
  6. Hunter Renfroe RF
  7. Marwin Gonzalez LF
  8. Christian Vázquez C
  9. Bobby Dalbec 1B

As MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith wrote, this lineup also looks like one Boston could be using on Opening Day if outfielder Franchy Cordero is not yet ready to return to action.

“It’s a good lineup,” Cora said Wednesday morning when asked about this particular lineup. “It’s a deep lineup. When you have Christian Vazquez hitting eighth, that means we have a deep lineup. Somebody had to hit eighth. Somebody had to hit ninth. We feel comfortable where we’re at. The lefty-righty stuff, we’ll see how it plays out. But there’s good at-bats throughout. There’s power. There’s athletes… It’s good to see them together and see what they can do.”

Bench:

Because Cora has already made it clear that the Red Sox will be carrying 14 pitchers to begin the year, that means the maximum number of position players they can carry on their 26-man Opening Day roster is 12.

Taking into account the nine players listed in the above lineup as well as the fact that backup catcher Kevin Plawecki is a lock to make Boston’s Opening Day roster, that would leave the club with two vacancies on their bench.

Among the players still at major-league camp, Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis have been two of the Sox’ most impressive performers as they compete for a spot on the team’s roster.

Both Arroyo and Chavis are redundant in that they both hit from the right side of the plate and are both limited to playing around the infield. But with Yairo Munoz being reassigned to the minor-leagues and Danny Santana sidelined while recovering from a right foot infection, there doesn’t seem to be much competition for them.

Jonathan Arauz is certainly an appealing option since he is a switch-hitter, but the Red Sox may feel it is in their best interest to start the 22-year-old infielder off at the alternate site this year so he can continue to develop.

Having written all that, here’s an early Red Sox Opening Day roster projection:

Starting rotation (5): Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta

Bullpen (9): Matt Andriese, Garrett Whitlock, Austin Brice, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Phillips Valdez, Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes

Catchers (2): Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki

Infielders (7): Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis

Outfielders (3): Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez

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

Red Sox roster moves: Eduard Bazardo, John Schreiber, Connor Wong optioned to alternate training site

Following their 5-3 victory over the Braves at JetBlue Park on Tuesday afternoon, the Red Sox made their fourth round of spring roster cuts, as the club optioned three players to their alternate training site.

Right-handed pitchers Eduard Bazardo and John Schreiber and catcher Connor Wong were all optioned to Boston’s alternate site in Worcester, but they will remain at the Fenway South complex through the end of spring training.

Bazardo, 25, was initially added to the Sox’ 40-man roster back in November after showing out at the team’s fall instructional league late last year.

The Venezuelan-born righty is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 28 prospect in Boston’s farm system and carries with him a 1.80 ERA through his first four appearances of the spring — the most recent of which came in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s contest against Atlanta.

Schreiber, meanwhile, joined the Red Sox’ 40-man roster when he was claimed off waivers by the Tigers last month.

The 27-year-old, equipped with a funky delivery, has gotten off to a tough start with his new club this spring, allowing a total of two earned runs in just 1 1/3 innings of relief spanning two appearances out of the bullpen.

Prior to getting claimed by Boston in February, Schreiber has spent the first two years of his big-league career with Detroit in 2019 and 2020, posting a 6.28 ERA and 4.21 FIP over 28 total outings and 28 2/3 total innings pitched while consistently being shuttled between Triple-A and the majors.

Finally, we arrive at Wong, undoubtedly the most familiar name on this brief list.

One of three players acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade last February, the 24-year-old Wong is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 15 prospect in the Sox’ organization, ranking tops among catchers.

The former third-round pick out of Houston, who hits from the right side of the plate, clubbed his first home run of the Grapefruit League campaign for Boston on Tuesday.

Since camp broke in February, Wong has drawn plenty of praise from Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“There’s a calmness about him that managers like,” Cora said of Wong. “And we’re very happy. Last year, he was part of the big trade, and I bet everything was going so fast for him. And now for him to slow everything down, and being able to work, it’s a testament of who he is as a person, as a player. And obviously he’s somebody that we’re counting on in the future.”

All three of Bazardo, Schreiber, and Wong will now begin the 2021 season at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

Following Tuesday’s moves, the Sox now have approximately 47 players at major-league camp in Fort Myers with Opening Day just over two weeks away.

(Picture of Eduard Bazardo: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora on top prospect Triston Casas: ‘For him to be around us, it’s beneficial for us’

He may have gone hitless in his first start of the spring on Monday afternoon, but it was still encouraging to see top Red Sox prospect Triston Casas back on the field.

The 21-year-old infielder made his spring debut against the Twins on Sunday and went 0-for-2 after pinch-hitting for Xander Bogaerts in the sixth inning of an eventual 5-5 draw with the Twins.

On Monday, he started at designated hitter and eventually moved to first base while going 0-for-3 at the plate with a walk and a strikeout batting out of the nine-hole.

Again, even while not getting into the hit column against the Rays on Monday, Casas still put some of his tools on full display by drawing a six-pitch walk off Hunter Strickland in the second inning and by smoking a line-drive flyout to right field off left-hander Josh Fleming in the fourth.

Before making his Grapefruit League debut over the weekend, Casas had missed some time at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers after being evaluated for a non-baseball-related medical issue in Boston earlier this month.

Now that he is back at camp, it appears that the 2018 first-round draft pick will have the chance to get more in-game at-bats through the end of spring training.

“We know the hitter. I’m starting to know the player,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Casas earlier Monday morning. “He’s a guy that asks a lot of questions. He’s always checking where he’s at, what he needs to do. Yesterday, we had to move him to third base, and you could see he was prepared. He’s looking around, he’s looking at Carlos [Febles] pre-pitch. For him to get at-bats, it’s good. But just for him to be around us, it’s beneficial for us.”

According to Baseball America, the left-handed hitting Casas — listed at 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds — is the No. 1 prospect in Boston’s farm system going into the 2021 season.

The Miami-area native is projected to begin the 2021 season with Double-A Portland, but, as previously mentioned, he will presumably get the chance to get into some more Grapefruit League games these next few weeks.

“He had a big smile,” said Cora in regards to Casas’ first game back on Sunday. “For everything he went through the last few weeks, it was refreshing to see him out there.”

(Picture of Triston Casas: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Jeter Downs, top Red Sox prospect, ‘OK’ after leaving Sunday’s game with left side soreness, could be ready to get back into games by Wednesday

After being removed from Sunday’s game against the Twins due to left side soreness, Red Sox infield prospect Jeter Downs was evaluated by the team on Monday.

“He’s OK,” Sox manager Alex Cora said of Downs’ status following Monday afternoon’s 3-2 loss at the hands of the Rays. “We don’t feel it’s oblique-related. It was a bruise. So hopefully treatment tomorrow and be ready to play in two days.”

Downs, 22, landed hard on his left side after diving for a groundball in the bottom half of the seventh inning of Sunday’s contest against Minnesota at Hammond Stadium.

He was lifted at shortstop for Chad De La Guerra, and it now appears as though he won’t return to Grapefruit League action until Wednesday at the earliest.

The right-handed hitter — listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds — is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Sox’ farm system behind only Triston Casas.

Through his first 11 games of the spring, Downs is 4-for-9 at the plate with one home run, three RBI, and two walks. He was reassigned to minor-league camp on Friday.

Cora recently praised Downs for his ability to slow down what’s going on around him while on the field and at the plate.

“Just like I’ve been saying about Nick (Yorke) and (Connor) Wong, there’s something about them that the game doesn’t speed up on them,” the Sox skipper said. “He’s very calm. Sometimes, it looks like he’s too calm on the field. But that’s not bad.

“You can see the approach at the plate,” added Cora. “He makes great swing decisions. Defensively, he struggled (one) day but besides that, he has been solid and he has been good. He learned a lot last year working with (minor-league coach Bruce Crabbe) as far as defense, his set-up and his pre-pitch. He took all that into camp. I’m very happy with him. We just need him to keep working, keep getting stronger. I think that’s going to help him out. He’s a good, solid player.”

Downs, who turns 23 in July, is projected to start the 2021 minor-league season at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

(Picture of Jeter Downs: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)