3 positive takeaways from an otherwise disastrous opening weekend for the Red Sox

In case you missed it, the Red Sox got swept by the Orioles over the weekend to kick off the 2021 season, marking the first time since 2012 they have started a season by losing three straight out of the gates.

It’s also the first time since 1948 that they have started the home portion of their schedule with three consecutive losses at Fenway Park.

In the process of getting swept by the O’s these last three days, the Sox never held a lead, went a collective 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position, and were outscored 18-5 over 27 total innings.

To put it simply, Boston’s 2021 campaign is off to a rather disastrous start, but it is still early, meaning there is time to turn things around.

Taking that optimistic outlook into consideration, there were still some positives the Red Sox can take away from their first series of the year. Here are three of them:

Tanner Houck picks up where he left off in 2021 debut

Tanner Houck (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Pitching with family members in attendance for the first time as a major-leaguer, Tanner Houck carried over the success he enjoyed last September (0.53 ERA in three starts) into his first start of the 2021 season on Saturday.

Starting in place of the injured Eduardo Rodriguez (left elbow inflammation), the 24-year-old surrendered three runs — two of which were earned) on six hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts, though his line was not indicative as to how well he pitched on account of some sloppy defense behind him.

“He did a good job,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said about the righty. “He was good. Velocity was up, moving all the pitches. He did an outstanding job. Good fastball up in the zone, controlled his emotions. He did an amazing job for us.”

Despite the strong performance on Saturday, there is no guarantee that Houck will make his next start the next time through Boston’s rotation. That all depends on if Rodriguez, who threw a simulated game in Worcester on Friday, is ready to return to action later this week.

Garrett Whitlock shines in major-league debut

Garrett Whitlock (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After being selected by the Red Sox from the Yankees in the major-league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, Garrett Whitlock emerged as one of the stories of spring training out of Fort Myers.

The 24-year-old allowed just one run over four Grapefruit League appearances this spring on his way to making the Sox’ Opening Day roster.

On Sunday, Whitlock made his big-league debut, pitching in relief of Garrett Richards and Josh Taylor, who combined to surrender 10 runs to the Orioles in just 2 2/3 innings of work.

Coming on with two outs and runners at every base in the top half of the third, the right-hander got out of the jam by getting Maikel Franco to fly out to right field. He then proceeded to retire nine of the next 12 hitters he faced while striking out five and not walking a single batter.

Per Red Sox Notes, Whitlock became the first Red Sox pitcher ever to allow zero runs, zero walks, and punch out five-plus hitters in a big-league debut. 39 of the 59 pitches he threw went for strikes.

Sunday’s outing marked Whitlock’s first time pitching in a competitive (non-spring training) environment since undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2019. He had never pitched above Double-A prior to going under the knife.

“It was a dream come true,” the Alabama native — who had his mother and wife on hand to watch him –said in regards to making his major-league debut on Sunday. “It was an honor to be wearing the Red Sox name making that dream come true. I just can’t thank everyone with the Red Sox enough for giving me a chance.”

Of the 59 pitches Whitlock threw on Sunday, 44 were two-seam fastballs, 13 were changeups, and two were sliders. Seven of the eight swings-and-misses he induced on the day came on the two-seamer.

“He was good,” said Cora. “He pounded the strike zone, used his fastball up, mixed up his offspeed pitches. It was fun to watch.”

J.D. Martinez off to hot start at the plate

J.D. Martinez (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

While the majority of the Red Sox lineup stumbled out of the gate against Orioles pitching over the weekend, J.D. Martinez did not.

Following a 2-for-4 showing in which he crushed his first home run of the season on Sunday, the 33-year-old slugger is now 6-for-12 with that one homer, three doubles, three RBI, and two runs scored to kick off his 2021 campaign.

The homer he hit on Sunday — which traveled 429 feet to dead center field off a 92 mph fastball from Bruce Zimmermann — was the 239th of Martinez’s career.

For Martinez, who would surely like to put a dismal 2020 season (seven homers, .680 OPS in 54 games) behind him, what he did over the weekend was a great place to start.

“He’s such a workaholic,” Cora said of the three-time All-Star. “In spring training, we saw him swinging and swinging and swinging, chasing pitches. All of the sudden, boom. The strike zone gets smaller, he gets pitches he can handle and he’s driving the ball. That was a good pitch down in the zone and he put a good swing on it It’s good to see him start off this way.”

So for how miserable of an opening series the Red Sox had, there were still some bright spots that indicate that this team may be better than the slow start they have gotten off to would show.

Coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles, though, things do no get any easier for the Sox with the reigning American League champion Tampa Bay Rays coming into town for another three-game set that begins on Monday night.

If Boston wants to show that they can compete and play winning baseball at Fenway Park, they will need to turn things around quickly or otherwise risk falling out of contention much sooner than anticipated.

“We know where we’re at. It wasn’t a good weekend,” Cora said on Sunday. “But at the end of the day, it’s only three games. We have a chance to come tomorrow and do it again. We have to be better. Like I said, we have stuff to work on. I still feel the same way about the team five days ago than right now. We have a good team, but we still have to work, and work for our stuff.

“We just got to be ready,” he added. “And the goal whether it’s Baltimore, Tampa, or Seattle, it doesn’t matter. You try to win the series. So tomorrow is a new series. We got a chance to win it and we’ll go at it.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Alex Cora attributes Red Sox’ 0-2 start to poor defensive effort: ‘The team’s that play good defense, they win ballgames. And the first two games, we haven’t done that’

The Red Sox are 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2012.

One reason as to why the Sox are off to such a slow start is the fact that they have managed to score all of two runs — both of which came in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Orioles — through their first two games of the new campaign.

While that early lack of offensive production may be concerning, there is something else that has been hampering this Red Sox team, and that would be their defense.

Even by placing an emphasis on defense throughout spring training by setting up “defensive labs” scattered around the backfields at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has seen his team commit two errors and even more miscues since first pitch on Friday afternoon.

Kiké Hernández had difficulty fielding a hard-hit groundball off the bat of Anthony Santander in the sixth inning of Friday’s contest.

At the time, neither the Sox nor Orioles had managed to bring in a run, but Hernandez’s blunder — which came with runners on first and second and one out in the frame — while playing second base allowed everyone to reach base safely.

On what could have been a much-needed inning-ending double play for Matt Andriese, the top of the sixth continued and Baltimore took full advantage of Hernandez’s error when Ryan Mountcastle laced a two-run double off the Green Monster to plate his side’s first two runs of the day. The Orioles would go on to win by a final score of 3-0.

A day later, defensive miscues continued to plague the Sox in right-hander Tanner Houck’s first start of the season.

After getting through the first 3 2/3 innings of Saturday’s contest in relatively easy fashion, the 24-year-old ran into a bit of trouble in the fourth when he issued a two-out walk to Rio Ruiz.

Houck followed by getting Austin Hays to hit a broken bat ground ball to a sprawling Rafael Devers over at third.

Devers, having chosen to go to second base as opposed to first for what should have been an inning-ending force out, instead overthrew an outstretched Marwin Gonzalez covering the bag.

Devers’ errant throw wound up in shallow right field, and it — as well as as a passed ball by catcher Kevin Plawecki — allowed both Ruiz and Hays to advance an additional 90 feet to put a pair of runners in scoring position, though they wouldn’t stay there long.

That being the case because the Orioles again took advantage of a Red Sox mishap when Maikel Franco smacked a two-run single through the left side of the infield to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead.

An inning later, after they had scored a run in their half of the fourth, the Sox had the chance to hold the Orioles at two runs for the time being, but ultimately failed to do so.

With two outs and a runner at third, Houck found himself just one out away from getting out of a bit of a jam, and it looked like he was going to do so when he got Santander to rip a sharply-hit ground ball to Xander Bogaerts at short.

Bogaerts, having just made a tremendous diving play to hold that runner at third, attempted to backhand Santander’s grounder while backtracking to his left, but failed to bring in the ball cleanly which allowed Santander to reach base safely and drive in the run.

Bogaerts certainly had a tough play to make when considering where he fielded the ball as well as Santander’s speed down the first base line, but it was still one that — if made cleanly — could have made a difference later on. For what it’s worth, it was not ruled an error.

“I think defensively, the two games, we haven’t been sharp,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Saturday afternoon. “We made some bad decisions. We didn’t make any plays. For us, it’s very important to play defense. The team’s that play good defense, they win ballgames. And the first two games, we haven’t done that.”

In Devers’ case, the 24-year-old is coming off a 2020 season in which he committed 14 errors, ranking tops among big-league third basemen in regards to number of errors committed.

The mishap Devers had in the fourth inning on Saturday is one that could have been avoided had he backed off and let Bogaerts field Hays’ grounder instead. That over-eagerness is something the Red Sox are hoping to correct sooner rather than later.

“He wants to make every play,” Cora said about Devers when asked about his defense. “He’s just got to make better decisions. We love the effort. That was a ball way to his left. He gets to it. But, you got to know who you got next to you and you have to make better decisions. Like I said, the effort is there. If he makes that play, it’s a great play. But, it’s an above-average play. I rather have them make the average play and move on to the next play and do that. So, we’ll keep working with him. I think we have to just make better decisions.

“It was a tough play, regardless. At second or at first,” added the Sox skipper. “Sometimes you make those great plays and you’re better off moving on to the next one, right? Because it’s a tough play to throw to first. It’s a tough one to throw to second. You can put yourself and the team in a bad spot.”

The Red Sox themselves are a few months removed from a 2020 season in which they committed the second-most errors (45) and compiled the seventh-worst Ultimate Zone Rating (-2.5) in the American League last year, per FanGraphs.

For Cora, defense is something he wants to see the Sox excel at. He has yet to see that through the first two games of the 2021 campaign.

“Out of the three phases of the game (hitting, pitching, fielding), the defense part of it is the one that has been disappointing in the first two games,” Cora stated.

(Picture of Rafael Devers: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Hirokazu Sawamura tosses scoreless ninth inning in Red Sox debut; ‘For him to go out there and get his feet wet at the big-league level, that was fun to watch,’ Alex Cora says

While the 2021 season did not get off to the best of starts for the Red Sox on Friday, it did to some degree for Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura.

The soon-to-be 33-year-old right-hander made his Red Sox — and major-league — debut in the ninth inning of Friday’s 3-0 Opening Day loss to the Orioles.

Coming on with his side already trailing by three runs, Sawamura was tasked with keeping that deficit where it was at to give the Sox a chance in their half of the ninth. And with the bottom half of the Orioles’ lineup due to hit in the inning, he wound up doing just that.

There was some trouble along the way, as Sawamura yielded a two-out double to Freddy Galvis to make things a little interesting. But all in all, the righty retired three of the four Baltimore hitters he faced, picked up his first career major-league strikeout, and put together his first scoreless relief appearance in the process of doing so.

“I wasn’t nervous at all, actually,” Sawamura said during his postgame media availability through interpreter Yutaro Yamaguchi. “Just trying to focus on taking it one hitter at a time, one pitch at a time, and just trying to execute my pitches today.”

By the time he had gotten Orioles catcher Pedro Severino to ground out to second for the final out of the frame, Sawamura had reached 21 pitches — 13 of which went for strikes.

Of those 21 pitches, 11 were four-seam fastballs, six were sliders, and four were split-finger fastballs. His fastest four-seamer of the day registered at 95.8 mph, while his fastest splitter registered at 93.5 mph, per Baseball Savant. He also induced five swings-and-misses — three of which came on the slider — as well.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, Sawamura was known for having a nasty splitter upon signing with the Red Sox back in February. It’s a pitch the Sox should be familiar with considering how much Koji Uehara used it in his four seasons in Boston from 2013-2016.

On top of that, itt turns out that Sawamura and Uehara are actually close. They were teammates on the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball from 2018-2019 and Sawamura even wears the No. 19 and uses Darude’s “Sandstorm” as his entrance song to honor the former Sox closer.

Uehara, per Smith, averaged 81.6 mph with his splitter during his best season with the Red Sox in 2013. Sawamura, who is just getting his Red Sox career started, averaged 92.7 mph with his split-finger fastball on Friday.

“Yeah, I think that’s about my average or a little below my average [normally],” Sawamura said in regards to the velocity of his splitter.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora was among those who was impressed by what he saw from Sawamura in his team debut on Friday. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that the Japanese hurler was still trying to find his footing in a new and unfamiliar setting during spring training.

“That was good, man,” Cora said of Sawamura’s outing. “The game’s still on the line, 3-0. … He was in control. Good splits today. That was probably his best split-fingered fastball since he got here. So that’s a plus. And for him to go out there and get his feet wet at the big-league level, that was fun to watch.”

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Maddie Meyer/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 recall Tanner Houck from alternate training site; right-hander will start against Orioles on Saturday; ‘He’s in a good position now to come here and contribute,’ Alex Cora says

Throughout the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Red Sox did not have the starting rotation depth they have now as they prepare to embark upon the 2021 campaign.

That much was made clear when upon placing left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on the 10-day injured list due to left elbow inflammation on Thursday, the club recalled right-hander Tanner Houck from its alternate training site.

Houck, currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 8 prospect in Boston’s farm system, had an up-and-down spring for the Sox, posting a 5.04 ERA over four outings — two of which were starts — and 10 2/3 innings pitched in Grapefruit League play.

The 24-year-old hurler had come into big-league camp vying for a spot in the Red Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation after impressing in a brief cameo (0.53 ERA in three starts) with the club last September.

“I still remember him pitching last year and reading about how he’s supposed to be on the Opening Day roster next year, and he was going to help us — or that point them — out to be better,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Houck on Thursday. “Well, you know what? He was going to start the year in Triple-A. And right away, we need a guy, and it’s Tanner Houck. So, I think that’s a lot better than what happened in ’19 and obviously what happened in ’20.”

Houck’s best outing of the spring was actually his very last one, and his first after being optioned to the alternate site nearly two weeks prior.

Working against the Braves in North Port on March 29, the 6-foot-5, 230 pound righty tossed 4 1/3 scoreless frames while scattering just two hits and one walk to go along with six strikeouts on the afternoon.

“Just watching him pitch the last one, him knowing the situation, you could tell he breathed,” Cora said. “It felt like, early in camp he was trying to impress someone. I told him before it started, ‘You just go out there and pitch.’ But the velocity was way up, he was out of his delivery. We haven’t talked about it, but he felt like he was off.

“The last one, he was under control, just throwing his sinker, and his four-seamer up, and the slider,” added Cora. “That was a good lineup, too. And there were some bad swings. But I think the comfort level — and it’s not that he was uncomfortable early on — but he was trying to do more, and that’s part of the learning process.”

Houck may have not been in Boston’s original starting rotation plans as of two weeks ago, but circumstances change and the former first-round draft pick is now scheduled to make his first start of the season against the Orioles at Fenway Park on Saturday.

Upon getting called up for the first time last year, Houck was unable to have any of his family in the stands to watch him pitch on account of COVID-19 protocols. That will change this weekend, as a few of the former Missouri Tiger’s relatives will be on hand to watch him pitch in-person for the first time in quite a while.

“He’s going to be excited on Saturday because he’s going to pitch in front of his family for the first time as a big-leaguer,” said Cora. “But I think he’s in a good position now to come here and contribute.”

Houck will be matched up against Orioles right-hander Matt Harvey on Saturday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox place Eduardo Rodriguez on injured list; Alex Cora hopeful left-hander will be able to rejoin team ‘sooner rather than later. And sooner is like next week’

To nobody’s surprise, the Red Sox placed left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on the 10-day injured list on Thursday due to left elbow inflammation.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old hurler was originally slated to start on Opening Day for the Sox in their first game of the year against the Orioles, but was scratched from said start after suffering a “dead arm” in the last week of spring training.

Now that he has been placed on the injured list — which was actually backdated to March 29 — the hope is that Rodriguez will be be able to return to the mound in the very near future.

“Him going on the IL is nothing long-term,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said about Rodriguez earlier Thursday. “It’s just [that] we ran out of time to build him up. The hope is for him to rejoin us sooner rather than later. And sooner is like next week.”

Rodriguez will head to Worcester on Friday to throw a simulated game at the Sox’ alternate training site at Polar Park.

Though Cora was unsure of how many innings or pitches Rodriguez would throw in that simulated game, he did place an emphasis on the Venezuelan southpaw’s health in the midst of this latest setback.

“We’ll build him up and see how it goes,” said the Sox skipper. “Like the whole week, the next day is the most important day. Hopefully he’s OK. The goal is for him is to be with us hopefully next week.”

Because his stint on the injured list was backdated to this past Monday, Rodriguez could be activated from the IL as soon as April 8, which — as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo — would line him up to get the starting nod against the Orioles in the Red Sox’ road opener in Baltimore.

Rodriguez, who missed all of 2020 due to a heart condition as a result of contracting COVID-19 over the summer, has not pitched on a big-league mound since September 2019. While he is surely anxious to get back out there as soon as possible, he also understands that he needs to be at his best health-wise before returning to action.

“I’m going to go out there when I’m 100%,” Rodriguez said last weekend. “That’s why we sat together and made the decision. I want to go out there and compete and not think, ‘Oh, my shoulder’ and all that and miss my spots.”

The start of the 2021 season, which for the Red Sox was pushed back from Thursday to Friday, will mark the second consecutive year in which Rodriguez was supposed to be Boston’s Opening Day starter but ultimately was not.

A bout with COVID-19 prevented that from happening last summer, and a bout with left elbow inflammation is preventing that from happening this spring.

“It sucks for him because going into ‘20 he was supposed to be the Opening Day starter,” Cora said of the 6-foot-2, 231 pounder back on March 26. “Going into ‘21, we announced it and now he’s not. But I told him yesterday, I said, ‘Hey, man. The way you throw the ball, the way your career is going, at one point in your career you will be an Opening Day starter. Maybe more than once.’ So he took it as a professional. With him, I think the communication is very clear. It’s very genuine. And for him to accept it and think about the future and not the first game of the season, it is a testament to who he is right now as a pitcher, as a person, as a leader in this team.”

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

Red Sox unveil Opening Day roster, place Eduardo Rodriguez, Ryan Brasier on injured list and recall Tanner Houck from alternate training site

The Red Sox unveiled their 26-man Opening Day roster on Thursday and in doing so placed two pitchers on the injured list.

Both left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (left elbow inflammation) and right-hander Ryan Brasier (left calf strain) were placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to March 29.

Lefty Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) will also begin the year on the injured list alongside Rodriguez and Brasier.

In place of Rodriguez, righty Tanner Houck was recalled from the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester. The 24-year-old hurler will make his first start of the season on Saturday.

The Red Sox will go into the 2021 season with 14 pitchers and 12 position players on their major-league roster to start things out in the first of three against the Orioles on Friday afternoon.

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

Red Sox’ Opening Day game against Orioles postponed, pushed back to Friday afternoon due to rain

The Red Sox’ Opening Day contest against the Orioles has been postponed due to inclement weather, the team announced Thursday morning.

Boston’s first game of the 2021 season, which was supposed to begin at 2:10 p.m. eastern time Thursday at Fenway Park, has now been pushed back to Friday afternoon at that same time.

“The decision to postpone our first game of the season was not made lightly,” Red Sox President & CEO Sam Kennedy said in a statement. “The built-in off day was created for just this purpose and tomorrow’s forecast for sunshine also factored into our decision. We have been eager to have fans back at Fenway Park for the first time in 18 months and look forward to welcoming everyone back tomorrow under brighter and drier conditions.”

With Thursday’s game being postponed, the Sox will now push back their Opening Day ceremonies to Friday afternoon. First pitch Friday is still scheduled for 2:10 p.m. eastern time.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is now slated to start for the Sox on Friday. He will be matched up against Orioles left-hander John Means.

First pitch, once again, is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

Because of this postponement, the Red Sox lose an off day this Friday and will now play seven games in seven days before their “first” scheduled off day of the season next Friday while the team is in Baltimore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Sox’ Kiké Hernández on playing for Alex Cora: ‘It’s an honor and I feel extremely proud to be playing for a Puerto Rican manager’

Since making his major-league debut with the Astros in 2014, Kiké Hernández has played for four different managers in his time with the ‘Stros, the Marlins, and Dodgers.

Never before has Hernandez played under a manager who hails from his home island of Puerto Rico. That will all change on Thursday afternoon when the 29-year-old takes the field for a Red Sox team led by the Puerto Rican-born Alex Cora.

“It’s an honor and I feel extremely proud to be playing for a Puerto Rican manager,” Hernandez explained Wednesday. “Growing up, almost every manager — if not every manager — was an American. So for me to be playing for a Puerto Rican manager, it means a lot. It’s something that the island is very proud of — I’m very proud of.”

The relationship between Hernandez and Cora goes back well before the former inked a two-year, $14 million deal with Boston back in February.

While growing up in Puerto Rico in the late 90s/early 2000s, Hernandez served as batboy for the same winter ball team Cora was playing for at that time, so the two got to know one another through that and their bond has only evolved since then.

“To play for Alex, the guy that I’ve known for 20 years, I’m just really happy,” the right-handed hitting Hernandez said. “I feel really comfortable because I feel like we’ve had this relationship for so long. I feel like we were friends before that. To have that relationship with your manager, it means a lot.

“Even when he wasn’t saying anything, when I was just watching him as a kid, I was learning a lot from him,” added Hernandez. “Once I grew up and I started playing winter ball and he was managing against me, every once in a while he would hit me up and give me little hints or help me out on defense, on double plays or whatever. So he’s had a huge impact on my career and I’m really proud and really happy to be playing for him.”

While he is happy and proud to play for Cora, Hernandez is also looking forward to soaking in his first official regular season game as a member of the Red Sox.

Fenway Park is a venue the 5-foot-11, 198 pounder has played inside plenty of times as a visitor, but Wednesday marked the first time he could experience the ballpark from the other side of the field.

“One of the first things I did was go into the dugout,” Hernandez recounted. “And the view from the first base dugout is a lot more special in this stadium than the view from the third base dugout. I can tell you that. It felt special. The magic of Fenway, you can actually feel it from the first base dugout.

“Like I’ve said, there’s a lot I’m looking forward to, a lot that I’m excited about, and it’s nothing that I take for granted,” he said. “There’s been times and there will be times [Thursday] where I’m going to sit back and think about everything. Just really happy to be here.”

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