Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo had a feeling he would make game-saving catch against Twins moments before it happened: ‘It’s one of those plays that you think about right before it happens’

Before making the defensive play of the day in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s Game 1 victory over the Twins, Alex Verdugo had a feeling the ball was going to come his way.

With two outs in the final inning of the day cap of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Twins had put the tying run on base when Jake Cave drew a leadoff walk off Red Sox closer Matt Barnes.

Cave also managed to steal second, which put the tying run in a 3-2 contest in scoring position as leadoff man Luis Arraez was due to hit for Minnesota.

The left-handed hitting Arraez had already hit two balls to the left side of the field, which gave Verdugo — who had shifted from center to left field in the sixth — something to think about.

On a 3-1, 86 mph curveball from Barnes, the Twins third baseman swatted a screaming line-drive with an exit velocity of 95.5 mph in Verdugo’s direction.

Verdugo had been playing relatively deep in left field at that moment, so he was forced to charge towards the ball, which was dying quickly and on the verge of landing on a soft patch of grass.

In a matter of seconds, the 24-year-old left his feet, dove head-first, made the proper adjustments, and snagged Arraez’s liner with his Mexican flag-inspired glove all before the ball hit the ground.

Per Baseball Savant, Verdugo had just a 29% chance of making that clutch, game-sealing catch, but he made it look relatively simple all things considered.

One reason behind that would be because Verdugo anticipated making that highlight play well before it actually happened.

“It was actually weird because it’s one of those plays that you think about right before it happens,” Verdugo explained when speaking with reporters Wednesday night. “And it just so happens that it was exactly what I had thought about. I knew the hitter, I knew that he’s been hitting line drives that way and likes to go oppo. So I was kind of already on edge knowing that Barnesy’s throwing hard and going to get after him.

“It was just one of those ones, man,” he continued. “It kind of manifested into my mind, and it came out. We made the play and held onto it. Any game we get a W and clinch one and don’t have to go to extras or waste any more arms, it’s a huge day.”

The diving catch Verdugo made at Target Field on Wednesday afternoon was reminiscent of the one former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi one made at Minute Maid Park to seal a Game 4 victory for Boston in the 2018 ALCS.

What was at stake in the games these catches were made in differs drastically, obviously, but the catches themselves were similar to one person who saw both of them up-close in Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“Of course,” Cora said when asked if Verdugo’s grab on Wednesday reminded him of Benintendi’s now-famous catch. “That was a great play by Alex.”

The fact that Verdugo was in left field to make that play in the first place was Cora’s doing. As previously mentioned, the Arizona native started out in center field in Game 1 and eventually moved over to left after Kiké Hernández pinch-hit for Franchy Cordero in the sixth.

“That’s why we talk about our defense in the outfield,” said the Sox skipper. “You guys talk about moving guys around late in games. We pinch-hit with Enrique (Hernández) for Franchy and our defense is still good. Alex had a great jump and made the right decision and he caught the ball.”

By the time Wednesday’s doubleheader had ended and the Sox had wrapped up their ninth consecutive win, Verdugo had played all three outfield positions in one day, as he started Game 2 in right field.

It was not too long ago when it looked like Verdugo would be Boston’s everyday centerfielder in 2021, but he has now played every outfield position at least four times since the season began earlier this month.

For Verdugo, not having an everyday position comes as a welcome challenge as he is showing that he can play left, center, and right field at a high level regardless of the opponent or ballpark.

“I feel like at this point now, there shouldn’t really be any questions about versatility or playing any of the different positions at a lower level,” Verdugo said. “I feel like I hold myself to a high standard out there, and I hold it to a high standard in right, center, and left with making plays and throwing people out. So I don’t see any difference with the position.”

(Picture of Matt Barnes and Alex Verdugo: AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Alex Verdugo comes up with game-saving catch as Red Sox top Twins, 3-2, for eighth straight win in Game 1 of doubleheader

In the first game of a straight doubleheader at Target Field Wednesday afternoon, the Twins had Red Sox closer Matt Barnes on the ropes.

With a 3-2 lead to protect, Barnes had recorded the first two outs of the bottom half of the ninth, but only after putting the tying run on base in the form of a leadoff walk to Cave.

Cave stole second base to advance into scoring position, which brought Luis Arraez to the plate with the chance to knot things up at three runs a piece.

After falling behind in the count at 3-1, Barnes delivered an 86 mph curveball that Arraez — a right-handed hitter — slapped the other way.

Alex Verdugo, having moved from center to left field in place of Franchy Cordero an inning prior had just seconds to react to the screamer heading in his direction.

The young outfielder sprawled out to his right and wound up making a catch that was eerily similar to the one Andrew Benintendi made at Minute Maid Park in Game 4 of the 2018 ALCS.

Verdugo’s was still awe-inspiring snag secured a 3-2 victory for the Red Sox that extends their winning streak to eight consecutive games.

Arroyo, Renfroe stay hot at the plate

Facing off against a tough opponent in Twins right-hander Kenta Maeda, a three-run second inning is what gave the Sox the edge in this one.

Hunter Renfroe stayed hot and got his side in the board first by scoring Marwin Gonzalez from second on an RBI single.

After advancing to second on another single off the bat of Cordero, Renfroe came into score when upon fielding a softly-hit bunt from Kevin Plawecki, Maeda attempted to get the force out at third and instead air-mailed his throw well over Arraez’s head.

That blunder doubled Boston’s lead, and Christian Arroyo tacked on another run by plating Cordero on an RBI base-hit to left field. Arroyo also doubled in the top of the fourth.

Eovaldi improves to 2-1 on the season

The Red Sox continue to get consistency from their starting rotation, and Nathan Eovaldi provided that consistency in his third start of the season on Wednesday.

Over five solid frames of work, the veteran right-hander held the Twins to two runs on five hits, no walks, and one hit batsman to go along with three strikeouts on the afternoon.

Both runs Eovaldi gave up came in a rather laborious bottom half of the third, but the fireballer rebounded by retiring six of the final seven hitters he faced through the end of the fifth — with some defensive help mixed in there as well.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 82 (60 strikes), the 31-year-old topped out at 99.1 mph with his four-seam fastball, a pitch he threw 34 times. His next start should come against the White Sox back at Fenway Park on Monday.

In relief of Eovaldi, left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen in the middle of the sixth. The 24-year-old needed all of seven pitches to retire the side in order before Barnes came on for the seventh.

Next up: Game 2

Next up, the Red Sox will wrap up this twin bill against the Twins later Wednesday evening.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will make his second start of the season for Boston, and he will be opposed by ace right-hander Jose Berrios for Minnesota.

First pitch of Game 2 is scheduled for approximately 5:25 p.m. eastern time. Red Sox will be going for their ninth straight win.

(Picture of Matt Barnes and Alex Verdugo: David Berding/Getty Images)

Bobby Dalbec comes through with 2 clutch hits, Hunter Renfroe and Rafael Devers both homer as Red Sox come back to defeat Twins, 4-2, and pick up seventh straight win

An unexpected off-day on Monday and frigid, snowy conditions in Minneapolis on Tuesday could not halt the Red Sox’ early-season momentum, as the club extended its winning streak to seven consecutive games following a 4-2 come-from-behind victory over the Twins at Target Field.

Improving to 7-3 to start the 2021 campaign, the Sox become the first team since the 1991 Mariners to begin a season with a losing streak of three-plus games and follow it by winning seven-plus games in a row.

Tuesday’s win in Minnesota was not easy to come by. The Sox were held off the scoreboard until the fifth inning and did not plate the go-ahead run until their half of the eighth.

Bobby Dalbec was responsible for the two-most important Boston runs of the afternoon.

The 25-year-old slugger came into the week in the midst of a 3-for-25 slump to begin his first season in the majors, but came through in the clutch during his first visit to Target Field by driving in the tying and go-ahead runs on a pair of RBI doubles in the fifth and eighth innings.

Christian Arroyo was the one who scored on both of those two-base hits from Dalbec. The young second baseman enjoyed a successful day at the plate batting out of the eight-hole, as he he went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored.

Arroyo also turned a nifty double play in the sixth when he fielded a 105 mph scorcher off the bat of Andrelton Simmons while playing in a defensive shift behind second base.

Renfroe gets on the board while Devers stays hot

Before Dalbec’s heroics, the Red Sox first got on the board courtesy of Hunter Renfroe.

With two outs in the top half of the fifth, the right-handed power threat that is Renfroe took a 1-1 slider from Twins starter J.A. Happ 416 feet deep to dead center field for his first home run in a Sox uniform.

Fast forward to the ninth, after Boston had already taken a 3-2 lead over Minnesota, and Rafael Devers wrapped things up by extending his homer-streak to four consecutive games.

The 24-year-old deposited a 1-2, 89 mph slider from Twins reliever Jorge Alcala 404 feet over the left field wall — with an exit velocity of 108.4 mph off the bat — for his fifth big fly of the season.

Perez gets off to shaky start, but pulls through with five strong frames

Martin Perez’s second start of the year looked like it was going to be a short one, for the veteran southpaw allowed four of the first six hitters he faced on Tuesday to reach base.

Command issues for Perez resulted in the Twins jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the first, but the Venezuelan-born hurler was able to settle in once he got more adjusted to the freezing temperatures.

That being the case because over his final four innings of work, Perez only faced more than four hitters in one frame on one occasion en route to keeping his former team off the board through the end of the fifth.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 88 (49 strikes), Perez’s next start should come against the White Sox back at Fenway Park on Sunday.

Bullpen holds steady, preserves winning streak

Between Hirokazu Sawamura, Adam Ottavino, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Matt Barnes, the Red Sox bullpen combined to toss four scoreless, one-hit innings of relief on Wednesday afternoon.

Barnes, in particular, was sharp once again as the right-hander needed all of 14 pitches to retire the side in order in the ninth, pick up his first save of the season, and preserve his side’s 4-2 series-opening win.

Next up: Straight doubleheader on Wednesday

The Red Sox and Twins will be playing a straight doubleheader on Wednesday to make up for Monday’s game being postponed.

Each game of the twin-bill will be seven innings long with the second contest beginning approximately 30 minutes after the first one ends.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is slated to get the ball for Boston in Game 1, and he will be opposed by fellow righty Kenta Maeda.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, meanwhile, will start Game 2 for the Sox. He will be opposed by Twins ace right-hander Jose Berrios.

First pitch of the first game Wednesday is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN. Red Sox will be going for their eighth straight win, and then their ninth if they come out on top in Game 1.

(Picture of Hunter Renfroe and Rafael Devers: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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’ Matt Barnes continues dominant run to begin season by striking out the side on Thursday; ‘He’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,’ Alex Cora says

Seven games into the 2021 season, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has yet to name a closer for his team. But Matt Barnes is certainly making the case to take over that role given how he has performed out of the gate.

The right-hander made his third appearance of the year during the ninth inning of Thursday’s contest against the Orioles in Baltimore. In a nearly-immaculate effort, he needed all of 11 pitches (10 strikes) to punch out the O’s 5-6-7 hitters in order to lock down a 7-3 victory for his side.

“That was amazing, right? Just throwing all those strikes,” Cora said of Barnes’ effort on Thursday. “Velocity. I do believe this is his best fastball, at least of the last three years. The carry. It’s not only up in the zone. It’s actually through the zone and down. The breaking ball is good.”

Of the 11 pitches Barnes threw against Baltimore, seven were curveballs and four were four-seam fastballs. He sat at 94-96 mph with his four-seamer.

Following Thursday’s outing, the veteran reliever has yet to allow a run or hit while striking out nine and yielding just one walk through four innings of work thus far.

Going into Opening Day, Barnes was mired in a competition with fellow righty Adam Ottavino to determine who Boston’s closer would be.

Both hurlers had solid camps and performed well in Grapefruit League play, but Barnes being forced out of action for three days in late March due to a false positive COVID-19 made it appear as though Ottavino had a solid chance at landing the gig.

Instead, Cora has still yet to name a set closer, though the expectation seems to be that Barnes is the man for the job at the moment.

“We’re very happy with him,” said the Sox skipper. “He has matured a lot. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Barnes, who turns 31 in June, is slated to become a free agent for the first time this winter, so him enjoying a career year in 2021 would certainly be well-received.

The UCONN product has been in the Red Sox organization since 2011 and has stated before that he is open to signing a contract extension to remain with the team he began his professional career with.

(Picture of Matt Barnes: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Red Sox ‘have engaged in talks’ with free-agent reliever Héctor Rondón, per report

The Red Sox are showing interest and have even “engaged in talks” with free-agent reliever Hector Rondon, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Rondon, who turned 33 last month, initially signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies in early February before opting out of said contract last week.

In eight appearances out of Philadelphia’s bullpen this spring, the Venezuelan right-hander yielded seven runs (six earned) on eight hits, two walks, and eight strikeouts over seven innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 7.71 and WHIP of 1.43.

A veteran of eight big-league seasons, Rondon spent the shortened 2020 campaign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he struggled to the tune of a 7.65 ERA and 6.59 FIP over 23 relief outings spanning 20 innings pitched.

Prior to 2020, though, Rondon had established himself as a solid bullpen arm through the first seven years of his major-league career, as he posted a 3.29 ERA and 3.49 FIP over 421 games (416 innings) as a member of the Cubs and Astros from 2013-2019.

Per Baseball Savant, Rondon — who originally signed with the Indians as an international free-agent in 2004 — primarily relies on his four-seam fastball, slider, sinker, and changeup. He averaged a velocity of 95.7 mph with his heater last year, down from 96.7 mph in 2019.

Rondon, as Cotillo notes, is just one of a handful of free-agent relievers the Red Sox have engaged in talks with in recent weeks.

Jesse Biddle, a left-hander with three years of major-league experience under his belt with the Braves, Mariners, Rangers, and Reds, is someone Boston “has inquired about” after the 29-year-old was cut loose by Cincinnati on Friday.

Falmouth native Steve Cishek is another bullpen arm the Sox had interest in, but only on a minor-league deal. The veteran right-hander opted out of his contract with the Astros last week and it certainly looks like he will be landing with another club on a big-league deal sooner rather than later.

Boston’s pursuit of relievers on the open market comes at a time when veterans around baseball are either released or opt out of their minor-league deals to pursue major-league opportunities elsewhere.

When asked on Sunday if the Red Sox would consider adding to their bullpen in the wake of Matt Barnes testing positive for COVID-19 (he has since been cleared to return to the team), chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acknowledged that an addition could happen depending on the circumstances surrounding the team.

“It’s interesting because this is the time of year where there’s often a lot of movement as teams are setting rosters,” Bloom said via Zoom. “Players might become available that haven’t been throughout the spring. So generally speaking, it’s a time of year when you’re looking around. This adds a little bit of a twist to that. At the same time, we’ve need to make sure that we’ve got our arms around the developing situation here and to the extent that this is just a short-term bump in the road. We also need to be mindful of that.”

(Picture of Hector Rondon: Ralph Freso/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)

Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski wraps up solid spring with 3 strong innings of work against Twins

In what was undoubtedly be his last start of the spring, Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski impressed against the Twins at JetBlue Park on Sunday afternoon.

Making his first start of the Grapefruit League campaign, the 22-year-old right-hander held Minnesota’s lineup — which included the likes of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Byron Buxton — to one earned run on two hits and one walk to go along with one strikeout over three solid innings of work.

That lone Twins tally came on an RBI groundout off the bat of Donaldson in the top half of the third after Willians Astudillo led off the frame with a double and advanced to third on a flyout.

Other than that, Winckowski wrapped up his day by getting Cruz to ground out to short to retire the side in the third.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 51, 33 of which went for strikes, the Ohio native finishes his first spring with the Sox having posted a 3.68 ERA and .154 batting average against over five total appearances spanning 7 1/3 innings pitched.

Boston acquired Winckowski — as well as outfielder Franchy Cordero and two players to be named later — in the three-team trade with the Mets and Royals that saw outfielder Andrew Benintendi land in Kansas City last month.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Winckowski was originally selected by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2016 amateur draft out of Estero (Fla.) High School.

He signed with Toronto for $125,000 later that summer and proceeded to put up a 3.35 ERA over 54 appearances (50 starts) and 263 innings of work between rookie-league, Low-A, Class-A, and High-A over the next 3 1/2 seasons.

By that time, Winckowski had emerged as an intriguing prospect within the Jays’ minor-league pipeline, and even after not seeing any in-game at action at all (besides Toronto’s fall instructional league) on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was one of three pitchers the Blue Jays traded to the Mets in January in exchange for left-hander Steven Matz.

Emerging as New York’s 26th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline in the wake of that trade, Winckowski’s time with the Mets did not last all that long.

As previously mentioned, he, again, was traded — this time to the Red Sox — on February 10, prompting him to jokingly change his Instagram bio to ‘I guess Red Sox.’

Given that he grew up and still resides in the Fort Myers-area, Winckowski going from the Mets to the Sox meant being within closer proximity to his new team’s spring training complex, which led to him captioning his Instagram post reacting to the trade with: ‘Spring training drive won’t be too bad.’

(For what it’s worth, his Instagram bio now reads: ‘Crazy few weeks but I’m pumped to be a Sox.’)

Winckowski arrived at the Red Sox’ Fenway South complex last month as one of 30 initial non-roster invitees at big-league camp. He was ultimately reassigned to the minor-leagues on March 9, but not before leaving a positive first impression on some of his new teammates, like fellow right-hander Matt Barnes.

“I was standing right next to him as he was warming up,” Barnes said about Winckowski following his scoreless outing against the Braves on March 7. “The ball was coming out good. Obviously he had a really good inning. Commanded the ball in the zone. Got ahead of guys, attacked hitters. It looks like he’s got firm, good stuff. It looks like the ball jumps out of his hand — really heavy fastball. That’s what it looks like to me. Obviously I’m not on the other end of it. But watching him from behind in the bullpen warming up and obviously the results speak for themselves in the game today, it looks like he’s got really good stuff.”

Winckowski, who does not turn 23 until June 28, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 33 prospect, ranking 17th among pitchers in the organization.

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen wrote this about Winckowski back in January, “Winckowski has a chance to pop in 2021 because he was pitching hurt in 2019 and still got guys out. He looked rusty during instructs but was also up to 97 and added a new splitter to an already decent slider.”

Equipped with a fastball, slider, changeup, and slider in total, Winckowski is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Double-A Portland, though he could earn a promotion to Triple-A Worcester later in the year depending on how he progresses.

The 2021 campaign could prove to be a pivotal one for Winckowski, as he becomes eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career later on this winter.

The Red Sox will need to add the righty to their 40-man roster on or before November 20 of this year if they do not want to risk losing him to another club in the December draft.

(Picture of Josh Winckowski: Billie Weiss/MLB Photos via 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)