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’ 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 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’ Michael Chavis upset about demotion to Worcester, but Alex Cora has no problem with that: ‘Nobody’s happy when they send you down’

Michael Chavis was informed on Tuesday that he would not be making the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster. He was instead optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Worcester, where he will be for the start of the 2021 season.

As it turns out, the 25-year-old was not exactly thrilled with that decision, especially after he put together a solid spring in which he slashed .250/.292/.600 with six home runs and 11 RBI over 25 games and 65 plate appearances.

Chavis had been competing with fellow infielder Christian Arroyo for one of the final spots on Boston’s Opening Day bench. Earlier in the spring, it looked like both Chavis and Arroyo had a chance to make the team, but outfielder Franchy Cordero being activated from the COVID-19 related injured list on Tuesday squashed any chance of that happening.

On top of that, Arroyo — who himself had a decent spring (.771 OPS in 55 PAs) — is out of minor-league options, while Chavis still has options remaining.

Taking those points into consideration, as well as the fact that the Sox like Arroyo’s versatility, Chavis did not stand much of a chance since he, too, is a right-handed hitting infielder.

“Both of them did an amazing job,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said about the pair of 25-year-olds on Tuesday. “They did a good job. Coming into the spring, I knew a little bit about Christian. I knew a lot about Michael. There’s a lot of circumstances that go into the decision. But one thing that we like about Christian, he can play short. We saw it throughout spring. He can do that.

“Michael, he made some strides, and we talked about it,” added Cora. “I’m glad that he was upset, because that’s part of it. Nobody’s happy when they send you down. But we talked about a few things that he needs to do to be the complete hitter that we know he can be.”

Despite putting up decent numbers on the Grapefruit League campaign as a whole, Chavis had been struggling at the plate as of late. In fact, he finishes his spring having gone 2-for-his-last-17 with no homers, one RBI, no walks, and eight strikeouts over his last eight games and 57 plate appearances.

In total, the Georgia native struck out 20 times in his 65 trips to the plate this spring. That translates to a strikeout rate of 30.8%, which is something that has plagued Chavis since making his big-league debut with the Sox in April 2019.

“I think at the end [of spring training], he didn’t control the strike zone,” Cora said. “He was very aggressive chasing pitches out of the zone. So now with his swing — he knows the boundaries of the strike zone up — now we have to make sure, ‘Hey, we’re going to drive pitches in the zone.’ So he’ll work on that.”

Cora, as he has over the course of the spring, emphasized that it takes more than 26 players to win a World Series and that making the Opening Day roster does not ensure any one player will remain on the team throughout the year.

He also pointed out how unexpected circumstances — such as ones caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — can change things in a hurry.

“We never know. We never know what can happen,” said the Sox skipper. “So [Chavis] needs to be ready. Not only him, all those kids down there. We know they can play and I think it will be good for him to go down and play everyday. That’s going to make him a better player.”

Players at the Red Sox’ alternate training site will make their way to Worcester this week before workouts at Polar Park begin on Thursday. From there, the Worcester Red Sox’ (Triple-A) season is slated to begin on May 4.

(Picture of Michael Chavis: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox roster moves: Franchy Cordero reinstated from COVID-19 injured list; Michael Chavis, Colten Brewer sent down to Worcester; John Schreiber designated for assignment

The Red Sox have reinstated outfielder Franchy Cordero from the COVID-19 related injured list, the team announced Tuesday morning.

In a corresponding move, right-hander John Schreiber was designated for assignment in order to make room for Cordero on the 40-man roster.

Additionally, both infielder Michael Chavis and right-hander Colten Brewer were optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Worcester.

Cordero being activated off the COVID-19 injured list most certainly means he will be good to go for Opening Day on Thursday.

Originally acquired from the Royals as part of the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City, the 26-year-old has impressed thus far in Grapefruit League play.

Coming into Tuesday, Cordero is slashing .294/.333/.588 with one triple, one home run, and one RBI through his first six games and 18 plate appearances with the Sox. He played back-to-back games for the first time this spring on Sunday and Monday.

Upon arriving in Fort Myers last month, the Dominican native’s status for Opening Day became cloudy once he was placed on the COVID-19 injured list after testing positive for the virus back home.

The left-handed hitting slugger was not cleared to return to baseball activities until March 11, but it now appears as though he has the green light for Thursday’s season-opening contest against the Orioles at Fenway Park.

“He feels great,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Cordero this past Sunday. “There’s a good chance he will be with us Opening Day. Let’s see how he reacts out of this one. But everything is very positive with the way he has been able to bounce back. The game in Tampa, he hit a triple, he move around in the outfield. He’s in a good position.”

Cordero, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, has played in just 95 games since making his major-league debut with the Padres in 2017 on account of multiple stints on the injured list. He has been hampered by a right wrist sprain, a right elbow sprain, a tight forearm strain, and a left abductor strain in the past three years alone.

Because of his history, the Red Sox will clearly have to be cautious in how they manage Cordero to ensure that he can stay healthy and play as many games as possible.

With Cordero being reinstated on Tuesday, the Sox needed to clear a 40-man roster spot for the outfielder, and they did so by designating right-hander John Schreiber for assignment.

Schreiber, who turned 27 earlier this month, was claimed off waivers from the Tigers back in February.

The 6-foot-2, 210 pound righty appeared in just two games for the Sox this spring, allowing a pair of earned runs on five hits, one walk, and one strikeout over 1 1/3 total innings pitched in those two appearances. He was optioned to the alternate training site on March 16.

The Red Sox now have seven days to either trade, release, or sneak Schreiber through waivers if he is not claimed by another club first.

Turning to the next move made by the Sox on Tuesday, infielder Michael Chavis and right-handed reliever Colten Brewer were both optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Worcester.

The 25-year-old Chavis had been competing with fellow infielder Christian Arroyo for one of Boston’s final bench spots, and it even seemed like both could make the team’s Opening Day roster if Cordero was not going to be ready in time.

But with Cordero getting the go-ahead, Arroyo and Chavis essentially become redundant since they both hit from the right side of the plate. And with Arroyo being out of minor-league options, the decision became clear that Chavis would be the one receiving a demotion.

This news comes in spite of the fact that Chavis had a solid spring (.892 OPS in 65 plate appearances), but it goes without saying that the Georgia native still has some things to work on at the plate after struggling to the tune of a .212/.259/.377 slash line across 42 games in 2020.

Having written all that, it would not be all that surprising to see Chavis back up with the Sox sooner rather than later. He has, after all, only played 29 career games at the Triple-A level, so perhaps he can use this demotion as a way to better himself once the Triple-A season begins in May.

As for Brewer, the 28-year-old was also embroiled in a spring competition for one of Boston’s final bullpen spots. That competition was ultimately won by fellow righty Phillips Valdez, though neither Valdez (9.35 ERA in 8 1/3 innings) nor Brewer (9.95 ERA in 6 1/3 innings) looked particularly sharp in Grapefruit League play.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “Valdez and Brewer will be easily interchangeable, as both can be optioned to and from Worcester as the Red Sox choose. Brewer (4.59 ERA in 80 ⅓ innings in two seasons with Boston) will likely be one of the first relievers called up if Boston needs a relief arm.”

With all these moves being made, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is at full capacity. More transactions are likely to come — with Eduardo Rodriguez and Ryan Brasier being placed on the injured list among them — but for now, here’s how Boston’s 26-man Opening Day roster should shape up come Thursday morning:

Starting rotation (5): Nathan Eovaldi, Tanner Houck, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Richards

Bullpen (9): Matt Andriese, Garrett Whitlock, Austin Brice, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Phillips Valdez, Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes

Catchers (2): Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki

Infielders (6): Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo

Outfielders (4): Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez, Franchy Cordero

(Picture of Michael Chavis: Michael Reaves/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)

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)