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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottavino gives up late lead

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

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

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

Dalbec, Barnes send things to extras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devers has rollercoaster of a game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: Pivetta vs. Lopez

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

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

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

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

Red Sox 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 reliever Matt Barnes cleared to rejoin team after potentially false positive COVID-19 test

After initially testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes — as well as the eight people who were in close contact with him — have been cleared to return to action, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

The reason being that Barnes “has had several COVID-19 tests come back negative since the initial positive result on Saturday,” according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

In addition to the negative tests, Barnes has not shown any symptoms, either. With both of these conditions being met, the Joint MLB-MLBPA COVID-19 Committee felt comfortable clearing the 30-year-old right-hander to return to baseball activities.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora confirmed as much following his team’s 4-0 victory over the Braves on Monday afternoon, though he did not get into the specifics on how Barnes was cleared so soon after receiving a positive test.

“He got cleared by the committee,” Cora said via Zoom. “I don’t know about the details. I’m just happy he’s going to be back with us and we’re going to be at full strength in a few days.”

Barnes testing positive for COVID-19 this past Friday led to eight other members of the organization — including pitchers Matt Andriese, Kevin McCarthy, Garrett Richards and Garrett Whitlock — being sent home as well due to contact tracing protocols.

Now that Barnes, who is the only one on the Red Sox to have tested positive thus far, has been cleared to return, so have the others, leaving Cora to feel more at ease with things compared to just a few days ago.

“Having the whole crew together is beneficial, obviously,” he said. “It was very fast the first day (Saturday), in the early part. It seems like it slowed down right away when we got on that bus to go to Bradenton. The guys did a good job staying the course and doing their work. There were no distractions and then we got good news.”

Barnes will finish the Grapefruit League campaign having allowed no runs on two hits and three walks over five relief appearances spanning 5 1/3 total innings of work.

The UCONN product had been competing with fellow righty reliever Adam Ottavino for the Sox’ closer job, while Richards slotted to pitch in this weekend’s opening series against the Orioles and Andriese and Whitlock were to begin the season in the bullpen.

Because of the time they spent away from the team while quarantining, though, it’s unclear if the likes of Barnes, Richards, Andriese, and Whitlock will be ready for Opening Day on Thursday.

“It’s too soon to make a decision, it’s too soon to know where they’re at,” said Cora. “I’m just happy they’re going to be with us. That’s the most important thing.”

Long story short, it looks like Barnes’ COVID-19 test from over the weekend was a false positive.

UPDATE: For clarity’s sake, I’m including this from The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, who tweeted earlier Monday afternoon that “is not regarded as a false positive but was deemed non-infectious.”

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

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)

Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes tests positive for COVID-19

Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes has tested positive for COVID-19, Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced Saturday morning.

Per Cora, Barnes is currently away from the Sox’ Fenway South complex in Fort Myers, as are several other players due to contract tracing protocols.

“As far as the guidelines and the protocols, it’s a fire drill now,” Cora said via Zoom. “So there’s a few people that because of contact tracing, they have to stay away from camp.”

One of those individuals would be right-hander Matt Andriese, who was slated to start for Boston in the club’s Grapefruit League contest against the Pirates Saturday afternoon. He has since been scratched from that start in favor of A.J. Politi.

“We talked about making adjustments yesterday pitching-wise and all that stuff,” said Cora. “Everything happened this morning, so we’re still scrambling as far as what we’re going to do. We know how we’re going to attack this, obviously. There’s some guidelines and the organization is great about stuff like that. It’s unfortunate, but this is the world we’re living in and we have to make adjustments.”

Barnes, 30, is asymptomatic, but protocols dictate that he could be away from the team for up to 10 days before receiving the OK to return to action.

In other words, with Opening Day just five days away now, the veteran right-hander will miss the start of the regular season. He had been competing with fellow righty Adam Ottavino for the team’s closer job.

“He’ll get tested, nonstop, for X amount of days,” Cora said in regards to Barnes’ status moving forward. “The hope is obviously that he’ll test negative and we can go from there. It takes longer than five days.”

Barnes had been pitching well throughout camp and most recently got some work in in a simulated game at the Fenway South complex on Friday, the same day he received a positive result after taking a COVID-19 test on Thursday.

With Barnes testing positive, the Sox are now in a mad dash to determine who else on the team — whether that be players, coaches, or staff members — have been in close contact with the reliever in recent days.

With the help of Major League Baseball, Barnes will be interviewed with the intention of finding out how he may have contracted the virus in the first place.

The league will also use data provided by contact tracing devices each player and coach has been wearing throughout the spring to determine who else on the team was in close contact with Barnes.

“Obviously, they get the information from the trackers but he’ll go over whatever he did from breakfast to dinner, who he spent more time with,” said Cora. “From there, they’ll keep adding people and subtracting people. We just have to be patient throughout the day to get more information about it. Hopefully, instead of adding people to it, we subtract people from our list.”

Barnes is the only player Cora has ruled out for Opening Day thus far. Andriese’s status — as well as the status of others who were in close contact with Barnes — has yet to be determined.

With Barnes being the only Red Sox player to test positive thus far, the team — as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo — “is hopeful it’s an isolated incident.”

“We signed up for this,” Cora said. “This is the world we’re living in. It’s not only the Boston Red Sox. It’s happening everywhere. It’s a bad moment, right? But we cannot blame Matt. The chances were high something like this was going to happen.”

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

Matt Andriese, Garrett Whitlock already proving to be interesting pieces of Red Sox’ 2021 pitching staff puzzle

In going about upgrading their pitching staff over the winter, one thing the Red Sox clearly targeted was versatility.

Looking past the additions of traditional starters such as Garrett Richards and Martin Perez and traditional relievers such as Adam Ottavino and Hirokazu Sawamura, two names that stand out in this particular category of pitcher are right-handers Garrett Whitlock and Matt Andriese.

Whitlock, 24, was acquired by Boston in the major-league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft from the Yankees organization.

A former 18th-round draft selection of New York back in 2017 out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Whitlock comes into Red Sox camp having never pitched above the Double-A level. He also has not appeared in an organized minor-league game since undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2019.

Having said all that, the 6-foot-5, 190 lb. hurler out of Georgia does bring with him a lifetime 2.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 42 total appearances (38 starts) and 205 1/3 total innings pitched across four minor-league levels since 2017.

Equipped with a groundball-inducing pitch mix that consists of a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s slider, and a changeup (per Baseball America), Whitlock must make Boston’s Opening Day roster and remain on the major-league roster for the entirety of the season if the Sox do not want to offer him back to their division rivals.

With that in mind, the Red Sox will surely find a way to utilize Whitlock properly in 2021. His new manager, Alex Cora, already seems pretty high on him.

“Whitlock is a guy that I’ll be paying a lot of attention to,” Cora said Saturday when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “He plays the part. He threw a bullpen yesterday (Friday). It was very impressive. The most impressive thing about him is the way he acts. The way he takes care of his body and what he does. He’s a very quiet kid. He knows what he wants to do. I’m looking forward to see him pitch and see where he takes us.”

As for Andriese, the Red Sox signed the 31-year-old right-hander to a one-year, $1.85 million contract for the 2021 season back in December. The deal also includes a $3.5 million club option for 2022 or a $250,000 buyout is said option is declined.

Over the course of a six-year major-league career between the Rays, Diamondbacks, and Angels, Andriese owns a lifetime ERA of 4.57 and a lifetime FIP of 4.23 over 183 total outings — 50 of which were starts — and 460 2/4 innings of work dating back to 2015.

Like Whitlock, Andriese could carve out a role for himself as a swingman for the Sox in 2021.

At the time his signing was made official over the winter, the California native said he believed his role with Boston going into the spring would be to compete for a starting rotation spot, but he also acknowledged that “being in the bullpen is also an option to help the team.”

Going off the notion that he is flexible with his role, Cora said Tuesday that the Red Sox would stretch Andriese out as a starter this spring, but have him ready to do anything once the season begins in April.

“He’s a good pitcher. Good stuff, good fastball, good changeup,” said Cora in regards to the 6-foot-2, 215 lb. hurler. “Actually today, me and Christian [Vazquez] were talking about him. Important role. We’re going to stretch him as a starter and see where we go throughout spring training. He’ll be ready to do anything. He’ll be our utility guy in the pitching staff, and you need those guys. We saw it in ’18, we saw it in ’19 when it didn’t work. Guys like that, they save bullpens, they save the rotation, they help the manager a lot to get some sleep at night. He’s been good.”

Cora added that he believed Andriese proved to be a valuable member of the Angels’ pitching staff last year, which is evident by the fact that he posted a 1.65 ERA and .373 OPS against over his final 10 relief appearances and 16 1/3 innings pitched of the season.

“Besides that, great teammate. Puts work in the weight room. Very smart about pitching,” Cora said. “Guys like that, they’re going to make us better.”

(Picture of Matt Andriese: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Red Sox, utilityman Kiké Hernández agree to multi-year deal, per report

The Red Sox and free-agent utilityman Enrique Hernandez have reached agreement on a multi-year deal, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal adds that Hernandez’s new contract with Boston is good for $14 million over two years. It also includes deferrals and is pending a physical.

Hernandez, 29, had spent the previous six seasons with the Dodgers, most recently slashing a modest .230/.270/.410 to go along with five home runs and 20 RBI over 48 games played in 2020.

He also put together a decent postseason for Los Angeles en route to their first World Series title since 1988 by posting a .755 OPS across 15 games and 31 plate appearances this past October.

A right-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, Hernandez has proven to be quite the versatile player in his tenure with the Dodgers, seeing playing time all around the infield, outfield, and even the pitcher’s mound (one appearance in 2018).

Going back to last season, Los Angeles deployed the Puerto Rican at second base 27 times, in right field seven times, in left field four times, in center field three times, and at first base and shortstop two times each.

Based off these totals, one might assume Hernandez’s best position defensively is second base, which in this case is true.

Per FanGraphs, the 5-foot-11, 190 lb. infielder/outfielder played 220 1/3 innings at second base in 2020. In those 220 1/3 innings, he was worth positive-8 defensive runs saved despite posting a negative-2.6 ultimate zone rating.

Going into the offseason, the Red Sox sought out to address their second base issues coming off a 2020 season in which that particular position group  put up an American League-worst .586 OPS and league-worst wRC+ of 55.

The addition of Hernandez, who by no means is an offensive superstar, might not be too appealing on the surface, but this is really a solid pickup for the Sox.

That being the case because when they don’t need him to play second base, the club could start him at a bevy of other positions, including all three spots in the outfield if necessary.

As an added bonus, which the Red Sox likely took into consideration here, Hernandez owns a lifetime wRC+ of 120 in 893 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching.

That attribute could very well come in handy if Hernandez was to be used a platoon option with Andrew Benintendi in left field, assuming Benintendi is still on the team by Opening Day.

Of course, given his connections to Puerto Rico, Hernandez should be familiar with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who, as Team Puerto Rico’s general manager for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, picked the former sixth-round draft pick to play for his home island’s team.

In signing Hernandez to a two-year deal, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have now added four free-agents (Hernandez, Martin Perez, Matt Andriese, Hunter Renfroe) on major-league contracts so far this winter.

Of that group, Hernandez is the first to get a deal with a guaranteed second year as opposed to a club option.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Red Sox are ‘preparing for a series of moves’ in an effort to upgrade 2021 roster, per report

Despite having a relatively quiet offseason thus far, the Red Sox may be preparing to make a series of roster moves ahead of the start of spring training, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Per Olney, “the expectation [for the Sox] is that they will [make moves] in an effort to upgrade the ’21 team.”

Since ending the 2020 season with the fourth-worst record in baseball (24-36), Boston has made a handful of major-league caliber additions to its roster so far this offseason.

In November, right-hander Joel Payamps was claimed off waivers from the Diamondbacks, while the likes of Eduard Bazardo, Jay Groome, Bryan Mata, Hudson Potts, Jeisson Rosario, Connor Seabold, and Connor Wong were all added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 deadline.

In December, righty Garrett Whitlock was selected from the Yankees in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, while a pair of former Rays — right-hander Matt Andriese and outfielder Hunter Renfroe — were signed to one-year deals for the 2021 season. Andriese’s contract includes a team option for 2022.

Outside of that, the Red Sox have jettisoned quite a few players — Tzu-Wei Lin, Yairo Munoz, Robert Stock, Kyle Hart, etc. — off its 40-man roster. They have also added (or re-signed) lesser-known players to minor-league deals for 2021.

Outfielder Cesar Puello, left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, and right-handers Daniel Gossett and Kevin McCarthy stand out among that group given the fact that all four have major-league experience.

Having laid that all out, it becomes quite apparent that the Sox have yet to make a huge splash either via trade or free agency pickup. And to be fair, not many teams except the Mets and Padres have to this point.

With that in mind, as well as taking what Olney tweeted into consideration, it would appear that Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. are preparing to make some noise one way or the other this winter.

Outfielder Andrew Benintendi has been thrown out there in trade rumors with the Sox seeking young pitching or outfield help in return, two-time Cy Young Award winner and current free-agent right-hander Corey Kluber is slated to pitch in front of interested teams in Florida on Wednesday. These are just some of the avenues Boston could be exploring as spring training draws closer.

As for other specific players the Red Sox could be in pursuit of this winter, Bloom somewhat addressed that topic when asked about his ‘offseason check list’ during a radio interview on WEEI late last month.

“Right now, there’s a lot of players on it,” Bloom said in regards to his list. “Part of that is a function of where we are, where there’s a lot of different ways we can improve, and part of it is how we are looking to improve. In the short-term, we have touched base with so many different players who we think could help us, who could fit us. There’s pitching, obviously, but also on the position player side. I think there’s different ways we can improve and different profiles of players we can bring in to help us.

“We also don’t want to take our eye off the ball that at the end of the day, we’re not just looking to put a little plaster in here and patch some holes,” he added. “We’re looking to take this organization back to where we can compete for championships consistently, year in and year out. And that means we got to be open to different moves, different acquisitions that might not just be about 2021. But, it just speaks to [the fact] that there’s a lot of different ways that we can improve. The No. 1 question we ask ourselves on anybody is: Is this pushing us towards that goal of sustaining a championship contender here? If the answer is yes, then we can explore it further, we can figure out how it impacts us in the near-term, what it might mean for other players, and hopefully we check as many of those boxes as possible.”

On top of being open to different sorts of roster moves, Bloom also expressed confidence that the Red Sox would be able to add a few more new players to improve the team before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers next month.

“I would hope that by the end of this offseason, there’s a number of different guys we’ve brought in here,” he said. “There’s certain possibilities on the trade market, creative things that could come together. They may not, because those things are harder to do — they take at least two to tango. But, different things that hopefully can impact us beyond just this year as well.”

And, again, for what it’s worth, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is still at full capacity. So, if in the next few days or weeks the club designates a player or multiple players for assignment, that could signal that another move could be coming, if that makes sense.

Then again, if a player of Benintendi’s status were to be traded, that kind of supplementary roster move might not be necessary. It really all depends on what Bloom and Co. have in store.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox showing ‘serious interest’ in free-agent right-hander Jake Odorizzi, per report

The Red Sox have serious interest in free-agent right-hander Jake Odorizzi, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

Odorizzi, who turns 31 in March, is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he posted a 6.59 ERA and 6.12 FIP, though he only made four starts and pitched 13 2/3 innings on account of three separate injured list stints.

The first of those three stints lasted from July 23 until August 8 due to a right intercostal strain, the second lasted from August 22 until September 16 due to a chest contusion, and the third lasted from September 18 through the end of the season due to a right middle finger blister.

Prior to this past season, Odorizzi earned himself his first career All-Star nod in 2019 thanks in part to putting up a 3.50 ERA and .671 OPS against over 30 starts and 159 innings of work. Minnesota went 21-9 in games started by the Illinois native.

As mentioned by Feinsand in the tweet above, Odorizzi first jumped on to the scene with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013 after being part of the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals the previous winter.

Having said that, it’s likely that Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom played a role in the Rays acquiring Odorizzi, among others, when he was still working under Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay.

In his five seasons with the Rays (2013-2017), Odorizzi made 127 appearances (124 starts) spanning 698 total frames pitched.

Over that rather large sample size, the former first-round draft pick of the Royals posted an ERA of 3.82, a SIERA of 4.13, and an xFIP of 4.33. He was traded by Tampa Bay to Minnesota in exchange for minor-league infielder Jermaine Palacios shortly before the start of the 2018 season.

Perhaps reuniting with a familiar face in Bloom would benefit Odorizzi as he looks to bounce back in 2021 and re-establish his value headed into next winter.

We will have to wait and see on that, but it is worth mentioning that the Red Sox were able to sign another former Rays hurler in Matt Andriese earlier last month partly due to the fact that he had already established a relationship with Bloom when the two were in Tampa Bay.

(Top picture of Odorizzi: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Chaim Bloom says trading for Blake Snell would have put Red Sox ‘further behind in our goal to win as many championships as we can’ over the long-term

Even with starting pitching issues to address this offseason, the Red Sox were likely never close to trading for former Rays left-hander Blake Snell.

The Rays dealt Snell to the Padres earlier this week in exchange for right-handed pitchers Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox as well as catchers Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt.

Besides Mejia, who at 25 years old has already graduated from his prospect status, the other three players acquired by Tampa Bay were regarded by MLB Pipeline as some of the best prospects in San Diego’s farm system, with the 21-year-old Patino even ranking as baseball’s No. 23 overall prospect.

Having said that, the Padres were able to acquire a player of Snell’s caliber because of the strength of their minor-league pipeline.

Dealing for a 28-year-old who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2018 and is under team control for three more seasons is no simple task, but the Pads, led by aggressive general manager A.J. Preller, were able to accomplish this.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, do not have the luxury of having one of the top farm systems in baseball, an honor they had enjoyed for a healthy portion of the 2010s.

Due to the recent decimation of their farm system and the urgency to build it back up to its once elite status, Boston felt as though it could not part with the pieces they would need in order to acquire a frontline starter such as Snell via trade. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom made that much clear when appearing on WEEI earlier Wednesday afternoon.

“That’s not something I would ever want to get into in detail, but I would just say, generally, that we try to be involved in everything,” Bloom told Rob Bradford and Jon Meterparel. “With a deal like that, what that deal amounted to was taking an enormous amount of long-term value and pushing it into the here and now. And pushing it into the short-term. When you look at the amount of talent that came back for Blake and the length of time over which that talent can impact the Rays, that’s exactly the sort of deal, given the cost and given the price tag, that would not make sense for where we’re positioned right now.

“I think it would put us further behind in our goal to win as many championships as we can over the course of the long-term,” he continued. “It’s our job to be involved in everything and we’re remiss if we don’t check in every player who might be available. When it comes to taking an enormous amount of value and consolidating it into a smaller amount that impacts us right now, I think that’s the opposite of what we need to do at the moment.”

While the Rays, led by general manager Erik Neander, received plenty of flak for parting ways with a homegrown star like Snell as they have become accustomed to doing in recent years — think David Price, Evan Longoria — Bloom, who served as one of Neander’s right-hands for a few years before taking charge of the Sox’ baseball operations department last fall, defended the club’s and his former boss’ decision.

“The reason that the Rays are as good as they are right now is because they have the guts to do these things even though they were painful,” he said. “Regardless of what your budget is — it’s certainly more critical to do it on a smaller budget — planning for the future and seeing around corners is important. The Rays have figured out how to win over time because they’ve placed an emphasis on that.

“As difficult as it is emotionally, I think it’s easy to look at that and say ‘Hey, look at the Rays. Look how they win despite the fact that they do these things,'” added Bloom. “I would argue that they win because they do these things. Because they recognize that in order to have a consistently bright future, they have to consistently place great emphasis on it. And when you do that relentlessly over time, you end up with a really good, really sustainable team despite the limited budget they have.”

Though it’s safe to assume that the Red Sox will be operating on a larger budget than the Rays this offseason and for the foreseeable future, there are certain measures that need to be taken in order to achieve sustained success over an extended period of time, as Bloom alluded to.

One way to do that is to ensure the right kind of players are added through a variety of methods such as trade, free agency, or even waiver claim. While it’s not exactly known what the Red Sox specifically look for in the players they target, Bloom did provide some insight into what his ‘offseason check list’ looks like at the moment.

“Right now, there’s a lot of players on it,” he stated. “Part of that is a function of where we are, where there’s a lot of different ways we can improve, and part of it is how we are looking to improve. In the short-term, we have touched base with so many different players who we think could help us, who could fit us. There’s pitching, obviously, but also on the position player side. I think there’s different ways we can improve and different profiles of players we can bring in to help us.

“We also don’t want to take our eye off the ball that at the end of the day, we’re not just looking to put a little plaster in here and patch some holes,” said Bloom. “We’re looking to take this organization back to where we can compete for championships consistently, year in and year out. And that means we got to be open to different moves, different acquisitions that might not just be about 2021. But, it just speaks to [the fact] that there’s a lot of different ways that we can improve. The No. 1 question we ask ourselves on anybody is: Is this pushing us towards that goal of sustaining a championship contender here? If the answer is yes, then we can explore it further, we can figure out how it impacts us in the near-term, what it might mean for other players, and hopefully we check as many of those boxes as possible.”

So far this winter, the Red Sox have only added two major-league players via free agency in the forms of outfielder Hunter Renfroe and right-hander Matt Andriese, both of whom agreed to one-year contracts with the club earlier this month.

24-year-old righty Garrett Whitlock was also added to the major-league roster via the Rule 5 Draft, but Bloom and Co. are still hoping to add more pieces as the offseason ensues and the calendar flips to January.

“I would hope that by the end of this offseason, there’s a number of different guys we’ve brought in here,” Bloom said. “There’s certain possibilities on the trade market, creative things that could come together. They may not, because those things are harder to do — they take at least two to tango. But, different things that hopefully can impact us beyond just this year as well.”

For what it’s worth, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is currently at full capacity following the Andriese signing, so that should give you a good idea of where things stand right now in terms of potential, upcoming movement.