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)

Nathan Eovaldi, Hunter Renfroe power Red Sox to 2-0 victory over Orioles

The Red Sox improved to 13-8-1 in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday following a 2-0 shutout victory over the Orioles at JetBlue Park.

Nathan Eovaldi made his sixth start of the spring for Boston in this one, and it turned out to be his best start of the spring thus far.

That being the case because over 5 2/3 innings of work, the veteran right-hander kept Baltimore off the scoreboard while scattering four hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts on the night.

With the help of two twin killings and some fine defensive work from Enrique Hernandez and Hunter Renfroe, Eovaldi did not face more than four hitters in a single frame. He also retired the last three Orioles he faced in order before getting the hook with two outs in the top half of the sixth.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 83 (48 strikes) on Wednesday, the 31-year-old’s fifth and final start of the Grapefruit League campaign should come against the Braves in North Port next Monday.

In relief of Eovaldi, right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura got the call with one out to get in the sixth, and he wound up putting together his most impressive outing of the spring to this point by getting Tyler Nevin to ground out to end the inning before fanning a pair in a 1-2-3 top of the seventh.

Wednesday marked the 32-year-old’s fourth appearance in a Red Sox uniform, and it was his first without registering a walk or allowing a single base runner. Certainly a step in the right direction there.

From there, Adam Ottavino also struck out two Orioles in a perfect inning of relief in the eighth, while left-hander Josh Taylor closed things out and picked up the save by sitting down the only three batters he faced in order with some more assistance from Hernandez.

All in all, Sox pitchers collectively retired the last 13 Orioles batters who came to the plate from the top of the fifth until the end of the game, which ended with a final score of 2-0.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup, which featured the likes of Hernandez, Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero, Michael Chavis, and Kevin Plawecki, was matched up against Orioles right-handed pitching prospect Dean Kremer to start things out on Wednesday.

After stranding a handful of base runners over the first two innings of this one, the top of the Boston lineup got things going in the third when Hernandez drew a leadoff walk.

A few moments later, Renfroe came to the plate for his second at-bat of the night after singling in the first, and he again got the best of Kremer — though to a much higher degree — by crushing a two-run home run deep to the opposite field.

That two-run shot — Renfroe’s third of the spring — put the Sox up 2-0 early, and that would prove to be all they needed to secure the 2-0 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday.

Some notes from this win:

After a slow start to the Grapefruit League campaign, Alex Verdugo put together his first multi-hit performance of the year in this one. The 24-year-old went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles while playing all nine innings in center field.

Franchy Cordero, who started in left and hit out of the seven-hole, went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit single to right-center field. He is 3-for-7 with a walk in his first three exhibition games with the Sox.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll host the crosstown rival Twins at JetBlue Park on Thursday night — their second consecutive contest under the lights.

Left-hander Martin Perez will be making his fourth start of the spring for Boston, and he will be matched up against right-hander Randy Dobnak for Minnesota.

First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. eastern time. The game will be broadcast on NESN Plus and will air on MLB Network on delay.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Adam Ottavino fans a pair in Red Sox debut, says closing out games is not ‘a must’ for him, but would be something he would ‘definitely embrace’

A little less than two months after being acquired in a surprising trade with the Yankees, Adam Ottavino made his Red Sox debut against the Braves at JetBlue Park on Wednesday afternoon.

Getting the call for the top half of the fourth inning, the veteran right-hander retired three of the four hitters he faced while picking up his first two strikeouts — one looking, one swinging — of the spring.

For Ottavino, Wednesday’s outing marked the first time he had thrown in front of fans in nearly a year, and it also marked the first time he threw in a game with Christian Vazquez behind the plate.

“I felt pretty good out there,” Ottavino said of his performance. “It was exciting to have people in the crowd again and throw to Vazquez for the first time in a game. So that type of stuff was good to get out of the way. And physically it felt good, so that was the bonus.”

As he prepares to embark upon his first season with the Red Sox, Ottavino has the chance to emerge as the club’s closer coming out of camp. He is currently competing with fellow right-handed reliever Matt Barnes for that job.

Over the course of his 10-year major-league career, the 35-year-old hurler has only notched 19 lifetime saves, a majority of which came with the Rockies from 2015-2018.

The closer role is one that Ottavino hasn’t had to undertake in quite a while, but it is not one he would shy away from if given the opportunity to do so with his new team.

“It would be great,” he said when asked how it would feel to close out games for the Red Sox. “The last time I had the job was right before I got hurt in 2015 and a little bit in 2016 when I came back. It was exciting. I really enjoyed it. It’s not something that I feel like is a must for me, but it is something I would definitely embrace. If Alex [Cora] gives me the ball in the ninth, I’ll definitely be pumped up about that.”

For his career, the former Cardinals, Rockies, and Yankees reliever owns a lifetime 2.76 ERA and .596 OPS against when pitching in the ninth inning of games.

Barnes, meanwhile, has posted a 4.03 ERA and .690 OPS against when working in the ninth inning over the course of his seven-year career with Boston.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has gone as far to say that there is no frontrunner in the team’s closer competition, but the competition between Ottavino and Barnes itself is interesting due to the fact that neither have extensive closing experience and both are slated to become free agents at the end of the 2021 season.

Despite not having too much experience as a closer, though, Ottavino already seems to know what adjustments he will need to make if he does indeed win the job out of spring training.

“I think the biggest thing is you’re pretty much starting clean 80% of the time,” said the Brooklyn native. “You might finish off the eighth once in a while, but for the most part you’re starting clean in the ninth. You know exactly what it’s going to take to get the job done. Whether you’re up by one or up by three or whatever the case may be. So you kind of pitch to the scoreboard a little bit in that way and just try to do your job for the team.

“I’m sure I would get a lot more pinch-hitters — probably lefties, that sort of thing — but I’ve done it before,” he added. “I think the biggest thing is just attacking that first guy and putting yourself in a good position for success.”

The reason Ottavino specifically brought up the possibility of facing left-handed pinch-hitters is because of the struggles he has had against lefty bats in general since making his big-league debut for St. Louis in 2010.

Last season alone, across 24 appearances out of the Yankees bullpen, the Northeastern University product allowed left-handed hitters to slash .294/.458/.353 off of him.

This aspect of his game, not his ability to close out games, seems to take precedence for Ottavino as free agency looms.

“I have no idea what they’re looking at these days in terms of roles and stuff like that,” he said. “But I do think it would benefit me to get a full season in of facing as many lefties as possible so I can put that narrative to bed and show that I can dominate both sides. That would probably be a bonus, but beyond that, I think regardless of role I’m looking to put together a great season. Not only for myself, but for the team.”

Ottavino, who primarily relies on his sinker-slider combination to dominate his competition, has quickly become one of the more intriguing pitchers — if not players — the Red Sox have on their major-league roster.

“He’s just very smart, a great communicator,” Cora said of Ottavino Wednesday. “Him and Christian [Vazquez] were talking about sequences and pitch shapes in the dugout. Like I said before, we’re happy that he’s with us. He’s a great addition to our bullpen and is a guy that we trust.”

Right-handed pitching prospect Frank German, who New York included in the trade that sent Ottavino to Boston, also made his Red Sox debut against the Braves on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old maneuvered his way around a leadoff single and two out-walk while striking out one in a scoreless top of the eighth to pick up his first hold of the spring.

(Picture of Adam Ottavino: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Yairo Muñoz among Red Sox’ most impressive performers early on in spring training

In his first traditional spring training with the Red Sox, Yairo Munoz is off to a hot start.

Following a 1-for-3 performance against the Rays on Tuesday that was highlighted a hard-hit two-run home run to the opposite field, the 26-year-old came off the bench as a pinch-runner in Wednesday’s contest against the Twins and collected another RBI by lining a run-scoring single in his only trip to the plate in the sixth inning of an eventual 14-6 victory for the Sox.

Through his first four Grapefruit League games of the year, Munoz is 5-for-9 (.555) at the plate with that one homer, one double, and four RBI while playing left field and third base.

The Dominican native is coming into the spring without a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster, meaning he is one of 33 non-roster invitees currently at big-league camp in Fort Myers.

The Sox outrighted Munoz off their 40-man roster in December. That decision was met with much surprise considering the fact that the utilityman impressed over the course of the final month of the 2020 campaign and the team had just signed him a one-year contract for the 2021 season.

After spending a healthy chunk of July and the entirety of August at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, Munoz was called up by Boston on August 31 and made his team debut on September 1.

From that point forward, the right-handed hitter — listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 lbs. — slashed an impressive .333/.333/.511 to go along with one home run, five doubles, four RBI, and two stolen bases over 12 games played before a lower back strain prematurely ended his year on September 19.

Given the fact he performed well and proved more than capable of playing multiple defensive positions (was worth positive-4 defensive runs saved in left field), it, again, was somewhat shocking to see Munoz stripped of his 40-man roster spot three months ago.

Having said that, it might be even more shocking that the ex-St. Louis Cardinal managed to clear waivers without getting claimed by another organization beforehand.

At just 26 years old, Munoz is still relatively young, under team control through 2024, and has one minor-league option remaining. All while just a few years removed from being one of the top prospects in the Athletics’ farm system, which is the organization he originally signed with back in 2012.

In Chaim Bloom’s tenure as chief baseball officer thus far, the Red Sox have clearly placed an emphasis on bringing in — whether by trade, waiver claim, or free agency — versatile players who can be put to the test on the field. Christian Arroyo, Enrique Hernandez, and Marwin Gonzalez are among those on the team’s projected Opening Day roster who fit that mold.

While Munoz may have taken a step back this offseason and still has some work to do in order to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster, he seems to fit that mold, too.

At the end of the day, it’s as MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith wrote earlier Wednesday: “The Red Sox are lucky Yairo Munoz remains in the organization.”

Smith also wrote that Munoz “is one of the top outfield depth options heading into 2021. He will play for Boston at some point this season.”

(Picture of Yairo Munoz: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Garrett Richards makes Red Sox debut as sloppy defense leads to 5-3 loss at hands of Braves

The Red Sox opened the home portion of their Grapefruit League schedule on Monday by falling to the Braves by a final score of 5-3 in seven innings at JetBlue Park.

Newcomer Garrett Richards, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with Boston last month, made his first start of the spring for Boston in this one.

Working two “full” innings, the veteran right-hander surrendered two earned runs on three hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout on the afternoon.

Both of those Atlanta runs came in the top half of the first, when Richards managed to record just one out before the rest of the inning was called off for pitch count purposes.

The 32-year-old was able to rebound in the second inning, however, as he retired the Braves’ 7-8-9 hitters in order to end his day on a more positive note.

Ultimately hit with the losing decision in what was his Red Sox debut, Richards will look to pick up where he left off in his next time out, which should come against the Braves once again on Sunday.

In relief of Richards, left-hander Kyle Hart, a non-roster invitee, came on for the third and yielded two runs — both of which were unearned thanks to a Bobby Dalbec fielding error — on a pair of walks and a two-run single.

From there, right-hander Kevin McCarthy — another non-roster invitee — worked a scoreless top half of the fourth, while right-handed pitching prospects Thad Ward and Connor Seabold combined to toss a pair of shutout frames in the fifth and sixth innings.

Zac Grotz, a right-hander, was responsible for the seventh, and he gave up one unearned run before being injuring his elbow on a pitch that required him to leave the game immediately.

All in all, Sox pitchers allowed five total runs, but only two of those runs were earned due to sloppy defensive play that resulted in five errors being committed; one from Dalbec, one from Ward, one from Marwin Gonzalez, and two from Jeter Downs.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox starting lineup featured the likes of Christian Arroyo, Gonzalez, J.D. Martinez, Dalbec, Michael Chavis, Yairo Munoz, Cesar Puello, Jeisson Rosario, and Jett Bandy.

Matched up against right-hander Huascar Ynoa — one of the top pitching prospects in Atlanta’s farm system — Bandy kicked off the scoring for his side by drawing a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the bottom of the second.

Fast forward to the fourth, and the bases were loaded once more. This time with one out as Rosario, one of the two prospects Boston acquired from the Padres in the Mitch Moreland trade, came to the plate to face Touki Toussaint.

Rosario managed to pick up an RBI, but only by dribbling a grounder to the right side of the infield that gave Chavis enough time to score from third and make it a 4-2 contest in favor of Atlanta.

In the seventh, a leadoff double off the bat of catching prospect Kole Cottam resulted in another Boston run crossing the plate when Jonathan Arauz grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

That sequence cut the Sox’ deficit to two runs at 5-3, and it allowed the tyring run to come to the plate in the form of Roldani Baldwin, who stuck out against Jasseel De La Cruz to put this one to bed.

Some notes from this one:

Nick Yorke, the Red Sox’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft, made his spring debut on Monday. The 18-year-old infielder went 1-for-1 off the bench with a walk and a fifth-inning single off Braves reliever A.J. Minter.

Ward and Seabold, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 10 and No. 11 prospects in Boston’s farm system, were probably the two most impressive pitchers the Red Sox threw out there on Monday.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll host the reigning American League champion Tampa Bay Rays at JetBlue Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Left-hander Martin Perez will get the ball for Boston, and he will be opposed by veteran righty Michael Wacha.

Garrett Whitlock, Joel Payamps, Ryan Weber, Josh Winckowski and Andrew Politi are also expected to pitch for the Sox.

First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time on ESPN, which means we are in for nine innings of baseball since this will be a nationally-televised game.

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

Red Sox’ Nick Pivetta moved to Fort Myers this offseason to work out at team’s complex and familiarize himself with organization

In his first offseason as a member of the Red Sox organization, right-hander Nick Pivetta moved to Fort Myers in order to be closer to the club’s Fenway South complex.

Put another way, rather than return home for the offseason as many players across baseball do, the 28-year-old opted to travel to southwest Florida and familiarize himself with his new club.

“We talked about it as the season was ending last year, and he was telling me he was thinking about coming down here and setting up shop because he didn’t have anywhere else he needed to be,” Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said of Pivetta earlier Saturday. “I think it’s great. It gave him a chance to be around the staff, to be around the complex, to get his work in consistently.

“Look, it’s not for everybody,” he added. “Some guys like being able to go home, some guys like being here. But for him this winter, it was perfect. Because it gave him access to the personnel, the equipment, and the space that he needed, and he took advantage of it.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Pivetta — as well as right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold — from the Phillies back in August for right-handed relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.

Pivetta arrived in Boston in late August, but rather than make his team debut right away, the club optioned the 6-foot-5, 214 pounder to their alternate training site in Pawtucket, where he would stay for about a month before getting called up on September 22.

In his first two starts in a Red Sox uniform — which came against the Orioles and Braves — Pivetta impressed by yielding just two earned runs on eight hits and five walks to go along with 13 total strikeouts over 10 total innings pitched.

“Nick was great last year,” Bush said. “Obviously he performed really well when he came up. After the trade, we kept him at the alternate site for a little while, and it gave the other people in the organization a chance to get to know him. I talked to him plenty of times over the phone before he came up. So I think the relationship started building pretty early last year, and we carried it through those last few starts at the end of the year.”

Ending the 2020 campaign on a high note, Pivetta headed down to Fort Myers and continued to put the work in to improve his craft.

“He’s worked very hard this offseason,” said Bush. “I was in regular contact with him once or twice a week. He was sending me videos as he was throwing his bullpens leading up to camp. He’s worked very hard. He’s dedicated himself to making himself a complete big-league pitcher and being able to stick in the big-leagues.”

As he prepares to embark upon his first full season with the Red Sox in 2021, Pivetta finds himself in a somewhat precarious position given the fact he is out of minor-league options. That means that if Boston wanted to send down the British Columbian hurler to the minors, they would have to remove him from their 40-man roster and expose him to waivers in the process of doing so.

With that in mind, it would appear that Pivetta, who primarily works with a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, has the inside edge on a spot on the Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation since other potential candidates — like Tanner Houck — have minor-league options remaining.

Even considering that point, though, the former fourth-round draft pick will still have to prove his worth and compete for said starting rotation spot over the next few weeks.

“I think he’s very excited for the opportunity,” Bush stated. “He’s going out there to compete for a spot, and he’s worked really hard for it. So I’m excited for him. I’m excited to see him go out there and pitch, compete, and show that the hard work he put in was worth it. It’s going to pay off.”

Pivetta, who turned 28 earlier this month, will make his spring debut on the road against the Twins on Wednesday.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria that S0x starters will each work two innings in their first starts of the spring and three innings in their second starts.

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

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo prefers hitting in batting cage to on-field batting practice: ‘It keeps my swing more locked in’

If fans were allowed on the premises of the Red Sox’ Fenway South complex in Fort Myers this spring, one thing they may notice while wandering around the many backfields is that Alex Verdugo is not out there taking batting practice while other position players are.

“Here, it’s not mandatory to go outside and hit,” Sox manager Alex Cora explained on Tuesday. “[Verdugo] did everything inside. We talked about his preparation and all of that. He stays away from the field for the first few just to do his cage work and hit off the machine. It’s part of his preparation, but he’s always out there for the defensive part of it.”

On the surface, it may seem odd that the 24-year-old outfielder does not participate in on-field batting practice and prefers to take his swings in the batting cages, but it turns out he actually has a sound reason as to why that is the case.

“I don’t like to hit on the field as much,” Verdugo said when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Thursday. “I think it’s good to occasionally see where the ball’s going, see how it’s flying. I think it’s good. But, me personally, through the last few years, I’ve found that the cage just does it better for me, man. It keeps my swing more locked in. It keeps me really focused up the middle — not trying to lift, not trying to do anything — just hit a nice, consistent line drive up the middle.

Utilizing that approach, as well as the mindset that opposing pitchers are seemingly throwing harder than ever, leads Verdugo to believe that cage work does a better job of simulating the in-game experience than batting practice does.

“Especially when you have a lot of guys throwing hard nowadays, I just feel like for me, seeing some hard velo in the cage is more realistic than seeing nice, easy BP on the field and trying to lift,” the left-handed hitter said. “Obviously, I can go out there and hit on the field and keep a professional approach and do my line drives, but I just like the cage better.”

In his inaugural season with Boston after coming over from the Dodgers last February, Verdugo impressed to the tune of a .308/.367/.478 slash line to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI over 53 games played (221 plate appearances).

The former second-round draft pick managed to stay relatively healthy throughout the duration of the year, but that likely would not have been the case had the 2020 season started at time.

That being due to the fact that, upon getting traded from Los Angeles last year, Verdugo was dealing with a stress fracture in his lower back, which at the time resulted in discomfort whenever he swung a bat.

While the Arizona native may be fully recovered from that ailment now, back injuries are nothing to mess around with, especially for a player with a limited history of them.

“I think if I do cage and BP on the field, the workload starts increasing, the number of swings start increasing,” said Verdugo. “For me, it’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long year trying to stay healthy through the whole year. If I’m feeling locked in and I’m feeling like I’m where I need to be and cage is enough, then there’s no reason to try to push it or try to go do something just for people to see me do it. I’m getting my work in, and I know what I need to be ready for April 1.”

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

Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards to start first two games of spring for Red Sox

After announcing on NESN Wednesday night that Nathan Eovaldi would be starting the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on Sunday, manager Alex Cora provided more details on what went into that decision earlier on Friday.

“It’s just the progression,” Cora said when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “It’s his turn to pitch on Sunday. Obviously, there’s a thought process, but it’s his turn to pitch. That’s it.”

Eovaldi, who turned 31 earlier this month, said over the weekend that he feels good as he prepares to embark upon his third full season with Boston.

The veteran right-hander is coming off a truncated 2020 campaign in which he posted a 3.72 ERA and 3.87 FIP over just nine starts and 48 1/3 innings pitched on account of being hampered with a right calf strain in August.

Arm-wise, though, Eovaldi is holding up just fine, and he figures to open the 2021 season as Boston’s No. 2 starter.

And not that it means much, but last spring, the Texas native put together eight scoreless innings while scattering just four hits and one walk to go along with 12 strikeouts over three Grapefruit League outings.

Cora has yet to reveal his starting lineup for Sunday’s contest against Minnesota, but he did say that Rafael Devers will play third, Enrique Hernandez will play short, Christian Arroyo will play second, Bobby Dalbec will play first, and Christian Vazquez will catch.

The starting outfield for that day has yet to be determined.

Following Eovaldi in the Sox’ early spring rotation will be fellow right-hander Garrett Richards, who gets the nod to start against the Braves and make his Red Sox debut at JetBlue Park on Monday.

“Stuff-wise, for me, he was one of the best in the league,” Cora recently said of Richards’ 2020 season — in which he produced a 4.03 ERA over 14 outings (10 starts) and 51 1/3 innings of work — with the Padres. “He’s been hurt, but what I saw last year with the Padres was eye-opening. I’m glad that he’s with us. This is a guy that when we talked to him during the offseason, he feels that there’s more. For how veteran he is and his age, he hasn’t wasted too many bullets, right? Because he’s been hurt.”

Assuming he stays healthy this spring, the 32-year-old Richards figures to open the season as Boston’s No. 3 starter behind Eovaldi.

MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo notes that “Cora has been impressed with how far along both Eovaldi and Richards are” so far this spring.

“Every year is something different, and medical-wise, we mapped it out,” said the Sox skipper. “It’s not that we’re going to rush these guys into pitching eight innings right away, but they’re in a good spot.”

Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Twins will not be televised, but Monday’s game against the Braves will be on NESN.

As a matter of fact, here is a full list of all the Red Sox’ spring training games NESN will be broadcasting in March.

In total, the Sox are slated to play 29 Grapefruit League games against the Braves, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, and Twins between February 28 and March 30.

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

New Podding the Red Sox episode: MLB.com’s Ian Browne joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by MLB.com’s Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for the site and has been doing so since 2002.

Among the topics Ian and I discussed were his experience so far in Fort Myers while covering Red Sox spring training, how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will affect Grapefruit League play and the regular season this year, how Jackie Bradley Jr.’s free agency is going, where Tanner Houck will start the 2021 season, who will emerge as Alex Cora’s closer, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Ian for taking some time out of his busy spring training schedule (and putting up with shoddy hotel Wi-Fi) to have a conversation with me. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here, and you can check out his work for MLB.com by clicking here.

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(Picture of JetBlue Park: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo discusses challenges of playing center field at Fenway Park

As Opening Day draws ever closer, it looks more and more like Alex Verdugo will be the Red Sox’ everyday centerfielder to start off the 2021 season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. remains on the open market, and while a reunion between the Gold Glove outfielder and the Sox cannot be ruled out at this point, it appears that the club is confident that Verdugo is more than capable of taking over in center.

During a televised workout at JetBlue Park on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old spoke with NESN’s Tom Caron and Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice. Among other things, the two sides discussed the challenges involved in playing center field at Fenway Park.

“The challenge is you got a lot of space,” Verdugo said. “Right-center is 420′, and we got some weird dimensions in the walls. Like where the bullpen is, it kind of cuts in a little bit.”

Since making his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 2017, Verdugo has logged 556 1/3 innings in center field, only eight of which came with the Red Sox last season during a game against the Marlins in Miami in September.

When he wasn’t playing center that one time in 2020, the former second-round draft pick saw the majority of his playing time come in right field (246 2/3 innings) with 167 1/3 innings in left mixed in there as well. And while he’s never played a professional inning in center at Fenway, Verdugo seems ready for the challenge ahead.

“For me, it’s the same as going into road parks, all that,” he said. “You just got to get out there and get to the warning track, feel it out, and take a couple of balls. You just get used to it that way. For me, it’s, ‘Be the person I am, play the game that I play, and get the jumps that I know I can.’ And then I’ll be able to cover the ground out here and hopefully — these gap-to-gap balls — cut them off and hopefully get some people off trying to extend the base or something.”

In response, Rice, who spent the entirety of his 16-year Hall of Fame career with the Sox and appeared in over 1,000 games at Fenway Park while doing so, offered Verdugo some advice.

“You can helm the gap-to-gap, but I think the key thing here is to worry about the wall more than anything else,” Rice said in regards to the Green Monster in left field. “If you look at your left fielder, anything to your left fielder’s left is going to come back to him. Anything over his head to his left is going to go towards right field. So those are the only angles that you really got to worry about out there.”

“Definitely. Obviously you know, you played out here way longer than I have,” responded Verdugo. “It’s just, once you learn the angles and know how they bounce off in certain spots, it’s not too tough.”

Looking back at his final season with Los Angeles in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and accrued 475 2/3 innings in center field that year.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the Arizona native was worth positive-3 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.

According to Baseball Savant, Verdugo ranked 33rd among qualified major-league center fielders in 2019 in regards to outs above average (0). In other words, by that particular metric, he was average at that position two years ago.

Late last week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora stressed how important it would be for his team to improve defensively this coming season.

Verdugo, seemingly taking over for one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in team history, will likely play a key role in how much Boston’s defensive efforts improve in 2021.

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