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)

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 add veteran reliever Héctor Rondón on minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed veteran reliever Hector Rondon to a minor-league deal, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier adds that Rondon will net himself $1 million if he gets called up to the majors this year.

Rondon, 33, became a free-agent last week after opting out of his minor-league pact with the Phillies.

In his brief time with Philadelphia, the Venezuelan right-hander yielded seven runs (six earned) on eight hits, two walks, and eight strikeouts over eight relief appearances spanning seven innings of work this spring.

Prior to signing with the Phillies in February, Rondon was coming off a shortened 2020 season with the Diamondbacks in which he posted a 7.65 ERA and 6.59 FIP in 23 outings and 20 innings pitched out of Arizona’s bullpen.

The fact that Rondon — a client of Octagon — struggled as much as he did last year is somewhat befuddling since he was one of the game’s most consistent relievers over the course of the first seven years of his big-league career.

From 2013-2019, the 6-foot-3, 225 pound hurler put up a 3.29 ERA and 3.49 FIP over 421 games (416 innings) between the Cubs (2013-2017) and Astros (2018-2019).

Per Baseball Savant, Rondon’s four-pitch arsenal consists of a four-seam fastball, a slider, a sinker, and a changeup. He averaged a velocity of 95.7 mph with his heater last year, down from 96.7 mph in 2019.

A former international signee of the Indians back in 2004, Rondon is the second reliever the Sox inked to a minor-league deal Tuesday, as he joins another former member of the Tribe organization in left-hander Tyler Olson.

Unlike Olson, though, Rondon will report to the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester as opposed to minor-league spring training in Fort Myers, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

(Picture of Hector Rondon: Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign veteran left-hander Tyler Olson to minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed veteran left-hander Tyler Olson to a minor-league deal, per FanSided’s Robert Murray.

MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo adds that Olson will head to Fort Myers to start the year at minor-league spring training as opposed to the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

Olson, 31, did not pitch in the majors in 2020 after signing a minor-league deal with the Cubs last February.

Prior to that, the veteran southpaw had seen major-league action in five consecutive seasons, as he posted a 3.83 ERA and 4.01 FIP over 124 appearances and 94 innings of work between the Mariners, Yankees, and Indians from 2015-2019.

A former seventh-round draft pick of Seattle out of Gonzaga University in 2013, Olson’s best work in the big-leagues came in his first season with the Indians 2017.

Upon getting called up by the club for the first time in late June of that year, the Washington state native did not allow a single run — earned or unearned — while scattering just 13 hits and six walks to go along with 18 strikeouts over 30 relief outings spanning 20 innings pitched through the end of the season. He held opponents to a .188/.263/.217 clip over that span.

While the 2018 and 2019 campaigns did not go nearly as well for Olson as 2017 did, he can still provide upper-minors depth as a left-handed relief option.

Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-3, 2015 pound hurler works with a four-seam fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider.

(Picture of Tyler Olson: Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

Falmouth native Steve Cishek signs with Angels despite reported interest from Red Sox

Veteran reliever Steve Cishek has signed a one-year major-league deal with the Astros, the club announced Monday night.

The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reports that Cishek will earn $1 million with Los Angeles this season.

Cishek, 34, requested and was granted his release from the Astros last week after signing a minor-league pact with the club in February.

In camp with Houston, the right-hander yielded three earned runs on seven hits, two walks, and 12 strikeouts over seven appearances spanning 7 2/3 total innings of work.

Despite putting up those solid numbers, Cishek, who was set to make $1.25 million if he made the Astros’ Opening Day roster, was apparently not in Houston’s bullpen plans given the fact that they are creeping towards the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

Hitting the open market late last week, Cishek obviously did not remain a free-agent for long.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, the Red Sox were one of the teams who expressed interest in the sidearmer’s services, but only in the capacity of a minor-league deal.

A native of Falmouth, Mass. and a product of Falmouth High School, Cishek’s connections to the Sox are not just local. He also has a history with Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom going back to when he was acquired by the Rays from the Mariners in July 2017.

Over the course of a big-league career that spans 11 seasons, the former fifth-round draft pick out of Carson-Newman University (Tenn.) owns a lifetime 2.78 ERA and 3.30 FIP over 594 games (576 innings) between the Marlins, Cardinals, Mariners, Rays, Cubs, and White Sox dating back to 2010.

He most recently put up a 5.40 ERA and 5.64 FIP in 22 appearances and 20 innings pitched out of the White Sox’ bullpen in 2020 before being cut loose by the club in late September.

Seeing how he only signed a one-year deal with his new team in the Angels, one has to wonder if the Red Sox will again be in the mix for Cishek’s services if/when he becomes a free-agent this winter.

Until then, Cishek will look to bolster a Halos’ bullpen that has made a plethora of significant additions in just the last two days alone.

The Angels are slated to visit Fenway Park for a three-game weekend series against the Red Sox from May 14-16.

(Picture of Steve Cishek: Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via 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)

Astros release veteran reliever Steve Cishek; Could Red Sox be in play for Falmouth native’s services now that he is back on the open market?

The Astros have released reliever Steve Cishek after the veteran reliever requested to be cut loose by the club on Thursday, according to The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan.

Cishek, 34, originally signed a minor-league deal with Houston last month and had until this week to opt out of his contract if he wasn’t going to be added to the Astros’ 40-man roster.

Per Kaplan, the Falmouth, Mass. native was going to make $2.25 million if he made the Astros’ Opening Day roster out of spring training, which is a price the club wasn’t willing to pay given how close they are to the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

Coming off a 2020 campaign with the White Sox in which he struggled to the tune of a 5.40 ERA and 5.64 FIP over 22 relief appearances and 20 innings of work before being released in late September, Cishek had been looking better this spring.

Through his first seven outings with the Astros, the 6-foot-5, 215 pounder yielded three earned runs — all of which came on home runs — on seven hits and two walks to go along with 12 strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings pitched in Grapefruit League play.

Known for his sidearm delivery, Cishek has racked up 132 total saves over the course of an 11-year big-league career between the Marlins, Cardinals, Mariners, Rays, Cubs, and White Sox. He was originally selected by Miami in the fifth round of the 2007 amateur draft out of Carson-Newman University in Jefferson, Tenn.

Because of his local connections, Cishek always seemed like someone who would pitch for the Red Sox at some point before calling it a career.

MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo tweeted earlier Thursday that he would “expect the Red Sox to be involved with some relievers who are opting out of deals this week.”

Boston has their own bullpen competition going on at the moment between the likes of Austin Brice, Phillips Valdez, Colten Brewer, and Kevin McCarthy, but it would not be too surprising to see Chaim Bloom and Co. bring in a more established reliever based off the names that have been made available these past few days.

Bloom does after all have a history with Cishek going back to when the Rays acquired the righy reliever from the Mariners in a July 2017 trade.

(Picture of Steve Cishek: Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura puts together first perfect outing of spring; ‘You can tell he feels more comfortable,’ Alex Cora says

Pitching in a game that was broadcast on NESN for the first time this spring, Red Sox reliever Hirokazau Sawamura put together what was without a doubt his most impressive outing with his new team thus far.

Coming into Wednesday night’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles, the Japanese right-hander having allowed two earned runs on three hits and seven walks through his first three appearances and 2 1/3 innings pitched of the spring. That’s good for an ERA of 7.71.

After Nathan Eovaldi recorded the first 17 outs on Wednesday in pretty simple fashion, Red Sox manager Alex Cora departed from the third base dugout to give the veteran starter the hook in favor of Sawamura.

With the bases empty and one out to get in the top half of the sixth, the 32-year-old got that out by getting Tyler Nevin to ground out to first to retire the side.

An inning later, Sawamura came back out for the sixth, marking the first time this spring he was going to be used in multiple frames. The righty did not miss a beat, though, as he proceeded to punch out both Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika before inducing a groundout off the bat of Ramon Urias to end things there.

All in all, Sawamura needed all of 23 pitches to get four outs en route to picking up his second hold of the spring.

Since signing a two-year, $3 million deal — which includes a dual club/player option for 2023 — with the Sox back in February, it’s fair to say the past few weeks have been an adjustment period for Sawamura.

Not only is he dealing with a new country and new culture, but he is also adjusting to a style of baseball in the United States that differs from what he had grown accustomed to in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization overseas.

That being said, Sawamura, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, is clearly starting to find his footing with the Sox. Wednesday’s performance marked his second consecutive scoreless appearance out of the Boston bullpen, and it also marked the first time all spring he did not allow a single base runner.

The fact he worked multiple innings for the first time indicates just how vital he could be for Boston’s pitching plans in 2021.

“That was important,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of getting Sawamura into a multi-inning appearance. “He’s going to have to do that during the season. And you can tell he feels more comfortable. He’s been able to throw his slider for strikes. Today was his best fastball out of all the outings. The split is still a work in progress. Little that we knew. We thought we had a fastball up, split guy. Now he’s developed a slider all of a sudden. And it’s a really good one. He can throw it for strikes and expand. We just wanted to see that and he did an outstanding job.”

Known for his fastball and splitter combination during his time with the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines over the course of a 10-year career in Japan, Sawamura figures to emerge as late-inning option out of the Sox’ bullpen for Cora once the regular season begins.

Before Opening Day, though, the next step for Sawamura will be to pitch on back-to-back days, which should happen soon according to pitching coach Dave Bush.

“We’re trying to encourage him just to get comfortable and go one step at a time,” Bush said earlier Wednesday afternoon. “Each outing has been better than the previous one… He’s going to have back-to-back appearances coming up soon. Offhand, I don’t know the exact days, but it will be soon. He’s built up well. He’s getting better each time and is on the right path.”

The two-year contract Samura signed with the Red Sox over the winter does include a unique dual option for a potential third year in 2023, and it also includes escalators and bonuses that could take its total value up to $7.65 million.

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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