Red Sox option Tanner Houck to Worcester: Chaim Bloom says rookie right-hander ‘is a capable major-league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product’

The Red Sox optioning rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to the alternate training site in Worcester on Wednesday did not come as much of a surprise.

With Eduardo Rodriguez set to make his season debut against the Orioles on Thursday, the Sox needed to open up a roster spot in order to activate the left-hander from the injured list.

Considering the fact that Houck has minor-league options and Boston’s starting rotation already consists of Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez, optioning the young righty seemed like the most logical step to take so that Rodriguez could be slotted back into the rotation.

Since being called up by the Red Sox for the first time last September, Houck has posted a 1.17 ERA and 2.51 FIP over five outings (four starts) and 23 innings pitched. That includes his first start of the 2021 season against the Orioles over the weekend in which he gave up three runs (two earned) over five innings as well as a relief appearance in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s contest against the Rays in which he allowed one unearned run in one inning of work.

To say the 24-year-old out of Collinsville, Ill. has gotten his big-league career off to an impressive start would be an understatement, but the Sox still feel as though there are some things he can improve upon.

“Tanner pitched great, both in his start and his appearance out of the bullpen,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato on Wednesday. “Simply put, this is about depth. We’re fortunate to have five guys we feel are good and capable major league starters. Tanner, we feel, is a sixth. We want to keep them all starting and keep them all pitching.”

Bloom acknowledged that while Boston’s starting rotation is set for the time being, injuries are inevitable and having Houck available to come up from Worcester could prove to be extremely valuable.

While Houck will be limited to just throwing bullpen sessions and in simulated games at Polar Park for the time being before the minor-league season begins next month, one aspect of his game the Sox would like to see the former first-round pick build on is continuing to develop a third pitch.

That third pitch, a splitter, is one that is still relatively new to the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler. Of the 100 pitches the righty has thrown so far this season, only three have been splitters.

“I think Tanner Houck is a capable major league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product,” Bloom told Mastrodonato. “We know his ceiling could be even higher if he gets really comfortable with a third pitch. We know he can get lefties out, executing the fastball and slider the way he has in his big league starts, but if he can get more comfortable with that splitter, he’ll be even better. While he’s in Worcester, it’ll be easier to work on that than it would be while he’s pitching in a close game at the big league level.”

To put it simply, Houck is still “a work in progress” in the Red Sox’ eyes.. The hope is that he will be able to make more developmental strides while at the alternate site before being called upon once again.

“Keep working on his craft, on his pitches,” Red Sox manager Alex said in regards to what Houck can do to improve in Worcester. “Keep throwing strikes. Keep developing his secondary pitches. And just be ready. That’s all he needs to do. Where we’re at right now, we knew that this was going to happen. You look at the guys that have pitched for us, they’ve done an amazing job. And the difference between this team and last year — and even 2019 — we’re a lot deeper.

“He was a professional when we talked to him,” Cora continued. “He understands. Whenever we need him, he’ll be here and he’ll perform.”

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

Nathan Eovaldi puts together ‘amazing’ performance against Rays on Wednesday to finish off three-game sweep; ‘We needed that,’ Alex Cora says

Of the four starts Nathan Eovaldi made for the Red Sox over the course of spring training, his outing against the Rays in Fort Myers was undoubtedly his worst one.

Over four innings of work back on March 19, the veteran right-hander surrendered five earned runs on eight hits, one walk, and five strikeouts.

It may have just been a meaningless Grapefruit League game, but the lessons Eovaldi learned from that performance last month proved to be worthwhile during his second start of the regular season on Wednesday.

Working against the Rays at Fenway Park this time around, the 31-year-old dazzled by yielding just one earned run on three hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts on the afternoon. He needed just 91 pitches (60 strikes) to get through those seven frames.

“[Kevin] Plawecki and I had a good game plan going into it,” Eovaldi said when asked about his impressive showing against his former team on Wednesday. “We were able to follow up with everything, try to keep them off balance. In spring training, I learned a lot when they got to me early in the game. So I had to really mix my pitches today, and I was able to do that.”

Of the 91 pitches Eovaldi threw on Wednesday, 35 were four-seam fastballs, 20 were curveballs, 19 were sliders, nine were cutters, and eight were splitters. He induced 17 swings-and-misses from Rays hitters in total.

“I didn’t really have one pitch that wasn’t working,” added Eovaldi. “I was able to use the curveball, the slider — I used that a lot today, the cutter, splitty was good. I was able to locate the fastball. I made some mechanical adjustments the other day and they really helped me out. So I feel really good out there.”

With the Red Sox finishing off a three-game sweep of the Rays on Wednesday, Eovaldi was able to pick up his first winning decision and improve to 1-1 on the young season.

That Eovaldi was able to go seven innings in his second start of the year proved to be crucial for the Sox considering how spent their bullpen was following Tuesday night’s 6-5 win over Tampa Bay that took 12 innings to complete.

“We needed that,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “The fact that he only threw 91 pitches, it was very important. But he went seven. Where we were pitching-wise today, we needed a big performance from him, and he did.”

Eovaldi himself echoes this same sort of sentiment in regards to picking up a depleted pitching staff the day after a lengthy game.

“The way we started the season 0-3 against the Orioles, obviously we’re not happy with that,” Eovaldi said. “But then to come in, last night was a huge game for us. We were able to come back from behind, tie it up in the late innings, ultimately win the game. Both sides of the bullpen, we were down. So we were short on guys.

“For me to be able to come out there today, go a little deeper in the game for us, and then for us to come out on top today, have the sweep — especially against the Rays — it’s a big one for us,” he added. “Big series win.”

Through his first two starts of the year, the Houston-area native has allowed just two earned runs over his first 12 1/3 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 1.46 as well as a 0.89 WHIP.

“He was amazing,” Cora said of Eovaldi. “He’s got two starts already. He’s done an amazing job mixing up pitches, throwing strikes. The fact he only made like 92 [pitches] in the first one, [91 pitches] today. Now he gets one more day in between starts. That’s really good for him.”

Eovaldi is slated to pitch again against the Twins in Minnesota next Tuesday.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Red Sox option rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to alternate training site

The Red Sox have optioned rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to their alternate training site in Worcester, the team announced prior to Wednesday’s game against the Rays.

The move to option Houck comes as no surprise with Eduardo Rodriguez slated to be activated from the injured list and make his first start of the season against the Orioles on Thursday.

Houck, who turns 25 in June, was initially slated to open the year at the Sox’ alternate training site out of spring training, but Rodriguez being placed on the IL due to elbow inflammation led to the righty breaking camp as the team’s No. 2 starter.

In his first start of the season, which came against Baltimore this past Saturday, Houck yielded three runs — two of which were earned — on six hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts over five innings of work.

He also allowed one unearned run while working the 11th inning of Tuesday’s 6-5, extra-innings win over Tampa Bay.

Since making his major-league debut last September, the former first-round draft pick has posted a 1.17 ERA, a 2.51 FIP, and a 31:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five outings (four starts) spanning 23 innings pitched for the Sox.

Despite the success Houck has been enjoying at the big-league level thus far, the Red Sox still feel like the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler has some work to do in regards to his development. A prime example of this would be to continue working on his third pitch: a splitter.

“It all depends on what you mean check all the boxes,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Tuesday (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) in regards to why Houck was going to be sent down. “You can be successful here but that doesn’t mean you have checked all your boxes from our end. And you can keep getting better.”

Another reason why the Sox are sending down Houck is because of the starters they already have on their roster.

With Rodriguez set to make his return to the mound on Thursday, Boston’s starting rotation will consist of Nathan Eovaldi, Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez.

Because Cora and Co. are not currently considering the use of a six-man rotation, Houck becomes the odd man out and will instead serve as rotation depth in Worcester.

Per Cotillo, “the expectation is that Houck will come up and start games later in the year if one of the veteran starters is injured or struggles.”

Until then, he will be limited to simulated games and bullpen sessions at the alternate site at Polar Park before the Worcester Red Sox begin their season in May.

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

Eduardo Rodriguez to make season debut against Orioles on Thursday, Alex Cora says

Eduardo Rodriguez will make his season debut for the Red Sox in their series-opening contest against the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday, manager Alex Cora announced Tuesday.

Rodriguez, who experienced “dead arm” during the late stages of spring training, began the 2021 campaign on the 10-day injured list due to left elbow inflammation.

The left-hander most recently threw a bullpen session on Monday, and the results of that bullpen session surely played a role in the decision to activate him in the coming days.

“Eduardo feels good,” Cora said via Zoom. “He’s going to join us in Baltimore. He’s going to start the first game in Baltimore. We feel good about him. He threw a good bullpen yesterday, so that’s where we’re at. He’s slated to pitch on Thursday.

Rodriguez, who turns 28 on Wednesday, was initially slated to be Boston’s Opening Day starter, but he was scratched — and later shelved — from that start because of the aforementioned dead arm.

The Sox placed the Venezuelan hurler on the injured list on April 1, but backdated the beginning of the stint to March 29, which now allows Rodriguez to be activated from the IL this coming Thursday.

Having last pitched in a competitive game on March 22, one might expect the Red Sox to ease Rodriguez into things in regards to a pitch or innings limit in his first start of the season later this week, but Cora indicated that will not be the case.

“We’ll take care of him,” the Sox skipper said. “But, there’s not like a hard number that we have. We do believe that he’s ready to go — go deep into the game. So that’s the most important thing. If it was something that it was going to be short, like he wasn’t ready to go five or six [innings], we would probably think about the decision. But we do believe that he can go deep into the game.”

While Rodriguez was sidelined to begin the season, rookie right-hander Tanner Houck started in the lefty’s place against the Orioles on Saturday.

Over five innings of work in that contest, Houck yielded three runs — two of which were earned — on six hits and one walk to go along with eight strikeouts.

It was yet another solid performance for the 24-year-old, who now owns an ERA of 1.23 through his first four big-league starts. But it would appear that he will be headed back down to the alternate training site in Worcester in spite of that.

“You can be successful here but it doesn’t mean you’ve checked all the boxes from our end, and you can keep getting better” Cora said of Houck. “We haven’t made a decision yet, so we’ll wait.”

Between now and and the time Rodriguez is presumably activated from the injured list before Thursday’s game against Baltimore, Houck will move to the bullpen and will be available to pitch in relief in Tuesday night’s contest against the Rays at Fenway Park.

As MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith put it, though, “don’t expect the Red Sox to use Houck as a reliever for any extended period of time. The Red Sox want him to remain a starter and keep working on the development of his splitter.”

Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said as much when discussing Houck’s development as a starter back in February.

“The split was new for him last year so he was relatively inexperienced with it,” Bush told reporters at the time. “He didn’t use it a whole lot in the big leagues. He’s going to have to. If he’s going to be a consistent big-league starter over time, he’s going to need a quality third pitch. He knows that and that’s probably been on the top of the list.

“Continuing to work on that to the point where he feels comfortable and confident attacking the zone with it and throwing it whenever he needs to,” continued Bush. “Also, generally, pitch command. Something he has worked on all through the minors is just throwing more strikes, being more consistent in the zone and being able to work ahead in the count so he can use his slider and his other off-speed pitches to get guys out.”

In Saturday’s start against the Orioles, 54 of the 85 pitches Houck threw went for strikes. Of those 85 pitches, 32 were sliders, 32 were four-seam fastballs, 18 were sinkers, and three were splitters.

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Patrick Smith/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)

Nathan Eovaldi named Red Sox’ Opening Day starter after Eduardo Rodriguez was scratched due to dead arm

For the second year in a row, Nathan Eovaldi will be starting for the Red Sox on Opening Day against the Orioles at Fenway Park.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora had originally named Eduardo Rodriguez as the team’s Opening Day starter last week, but those plans have now changed since the left-hander was scratched from that start due to dead arm.

“Nate is going to start Opening Day,” Cora said earlier Friday morning. “He’s in line to do that. And there’s no problem with that. The way we present it to him and the pitching staff, especially in a season that there’s a lot of unknowns, their bodies are going to let us know how we treat them.”

Eovaldi is coming off his best outing of the spring thus far in his last time out against Baltimore on Wednesday at JetBlue Park

The 31-year-old right-hander kept the Orioles off the scoreboard while scattering all of four hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts over 5 2/3 efficient innings of work.

As it turns out, that was Eovaldi’s last in-game action of the spring, as he will now just get some work in in the bullpen a couple of times between now and Thursday.

“He’s built up as far as the pitches and all that,” Cora explained. “He’s ready to go. It’s just a matter of how we manage his week. So probably two bullpens before he faces the Orioles.”

Last year on Opening Day, which came on July 24 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Eovaldi yielded just one earned run on five hits, one walk, and four strikeouts over six strong innings against Baltimore en route to picking up his first winning decision of the 2020 season.

Before Friday’s news, Boston’s starting rotation for their opening weekend series against Baltimore was probably going to look something like this:

  1. Eduardo Rodriguez
  2. Nathan Eovaldi
  3. Garrett Richards

Rodriguez being scratched from Opening Day on account of dead arm has since thrown a wrench in those plans, as Cora explained Friday morning.

“Now we’re kind of like rescheduling everything,” said the Sox skipper. “We’re going over plans. We had it all set up, but now we have to sit down and go over our situation, where we’re at dates-wise, and all that. And we’ll make a decision.

The thing about this is that it’s opening weekend, right?,” he added. “It’s such a big deal because it’s opening weekend. But if this happens during the season, it’s not a big deal. You just skip one guy, you move the other one, and you make decisions based on your schedule and we’re they’re at. But now, because everything was so structured up until now, now we have to scramble a little bit. So, we’ll have more news in the upcoming days.”

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata ‘will get back into a throwing program before too long to test’ out elbow following slight UCL tear

Earlier this month, an MRI revealed that top Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata suffered a slight tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament after he experienced soreness behind his right triceps.

At that time, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the plan would be to shut down Mata for an extended period before treating his injury without surgery.

It’s been a little less than three weeks since Cora revealed these plans regarding Mata’s road to recovery, and Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush provided an update Wednesday afternoon on how the 21-year-old right-hander is holding up.

“He’s in a rehab protocol right now,” Bush said. “There’s some strengthening exercises they’re doing. A whole variety. I’m not even sure exactly what they all are. But he will get back into a throwing program before too long to test it out and build from there. I don’t have a lot of specifics on it just because he’s [spent] more time with the trainers lately. Certainly he’s not throwing, not on the mound. But I still see him every day. He’s in here every day doing his rehab work and working back towards the throwing program.”

Mata, who turns 22 in May, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among pitchers in the organization.

The Venezuelan hurler — listed at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds — spent the entirety of the 2020 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where his fastball sat between 96-97 mph.

He also took part in the club’s fall instructional league and came into the spring projected to begin the 2021 campaign at the alternate site, which is now in Worcester, with the chance to perhaps make his big-league debut later this year.

Now that he has been sidelined for the time being, though, the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for internal starting rotation depth.

“With Bryan Mata on the IL right now, I’d probably say Connor Seabold is in that mix,” said Bush. “We also have a handful of minor league free agents that we signed. Some of them we signed last year and had at the alternate site.”

Stephen Gonsalves, Daniel Gossett, Kyle Hart, and Matt Hall were among the pitchers Bush named who are not currently on Boston’s 40-man roster but do have big-league experience.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, this group of pitchers will likely start out the year at the alternate training site.

“So we have a clump of guys that we’re going to get stretched out in Worcester,” Bush said. “And [we will] have them available for whatever we need, whenever we need it.”

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Taking stock of where Red Sox stand 2 weeks out from Opening Day

Two weeks from Thursday, the Red Sox open their 2021 season against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park for what hopefully is the first game of a full 162-game slate.

Because Opening Day is exactly two weeks away and spring training is more than halfway over, it’s a good time to take stock of where the Sox stand heading into the new season. Let’s get to it.

Starting rotation:

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will make his first career Opening Day start and pilot a five-man — not a six-man — starting rotation to kick off the year for the Sox.

Based off the way the club’s presumed starters have been used so far this spring, it’s fair to assume that Boston’s five-man rotation will start with Rodriguez, then right-handers Garrett Richards and Nathan Eovaldi, left-hander Martin Perez, and end with right-hander Nick Pivetta.

Tanner Houck, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects who impressed in three starts with the big-league club last season, was viewed as a potential Opening Day rotation candidate. But he has since been optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where he will likely start the 2021 season.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo earlier this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora is “pleased” with what he has seen from his starters since spring training began last month.

“It’s a solid one,” Cora said of the team’s starting rotation on Tuesday. “Everybody has their strengths, obviously they have their weaknesses. We have changeups, we have fastballs at 97 (mph), we have breaking balls. It’s not just velocity, either. For certain teams, you know you’re going to get from 97 to 100 (mph) and you prepare for that. With us, it’s going to be a little different. The constant is we can get people out in the strike zone. It doesn’t matter what stuff you have. We’ve been preaching that and they’ve been doing a good job with us.”

While Houck will more than likely start the year in Worcester, the 24-year-old righty could very well get called up again sooner rather than later.

With Houck beginning the season in the minors and swingmen like Matt Andriese and Garrett Whitlock beginning the season in Boston’s bullpen, the Red Sox certainly have a plethora of starting pitching depth, which is something they haven’t had much of the last two years.

“That’s what makes this group a solid one, because we have options,” Cora said about the club’s rotation depth. “We do believe whatever route we take, it’s going to be a good one. Also, we’re going to have people who are capable of stepping in whenever we need them

“The difference is we’re deeper this year than in previous years,” he added. “And that’s a testament to where we’re at as an organization and what we did during the offseason.”

Bullpen:

The Red Sox have yet to name a closer, though we do know the competition for the role is between right-handers Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes.

Ottavino, 35, has tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings out of the Boston bullpen so far this spring, while Barnes, 30, has yet to allow a run over 3 1/3 innings of work.

Both veteran relievers are slated to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign, so they should be plenty motivated to carve out a significant role for themselves going into their walk year.

Once we get past Barnes and Ottavino, who figure to see the lion’s share of work in late-inning spots, left-handers Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor figure to play key roles for Boston as well.

Like Rodriguez, Hernandez and Taylor were hindered by bouts with COVID-19 last season, though the two southpaws were able to pitch in a total of 15 games.

After Hernandez and Taylor, newcomer Hirokazu Sawamura and Andriese and Whitlock all figure to crack the Sox’ Opening Day roster assuming they are healthy.

Ryan Brasier would be in this mix as well, but it was recently revealed that the 33-year-old right-hander suffered a a small fracture below his right pinkie finger while working out back in November. That fracture put him behind schedule, and it more than likely means that the Texas native will start the season in the injured list.

With that in mind, Cotillo also wrote earlier this week that with two open spots left in Boston’s bullpen, “the three key competitors for those openings are Colten Brewer, Austin Brice, and Phillips Valdez.”

Brice, as Cotillo notes, is out of minor-league options, so that might give the right-hander an advantage over the likes of Brewer and Valdez, who do have options remaining.

“There’s competition,” Cora said of the composition of the Sox’ bullpen on Tuesday. “I can’t tell you if it’s one spot or two. We know we’re going with 14. We can do the math, and in the end, it’s probably one or two spots. It has been fun to watch. That’s the difference, too, this year compared to other camps. We actually have competitions in different spots. They’ve been doing an amazing job.

“First of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re competing with this guy or whatever, they’re helping each other to get better,” he added. “They’re producing on the field, doing everything right in the clubhouse and they’re making it hard on us to make decisions.”

Starting lineup:

The starting lineup the Red Sox drew up for Wednesday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Twins looked like this:

  1. Kiké Hernández 2B
  2. Alex Verdugo CF
  3. J.D. Martinez DH
  4. Xander Bogaerts SS
  5. Rafael Devers 3B
  6. Hunter Renfroe RF
  7. Marwin Gonzalez LF
  8. Christian Vázquez C
  9. Bobby Dalbec 1B

As MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith wrote, this lineup also looks like one Boston could be using on Opening Day if outfielder Franchy Cordero is not yet ready to return to action.

“It’s a good lineup,” Cora said Wednesday morning when asked about this particular lineup. “It’s a deep lineup. When you have Christian Vazquez hitting eighth, that means we have a deep lineup. Somebody had to hit eighth. Somebody had to hit ninth. We feel comfortable where we’re at. The lefty-righty stuff, we’ll see how it plays out. But there’s good at-bats throughout. There’s power. There’s athletes… It’s good to see them together and see what they can do.”

Bench:

Because Cora has already made it clear that the Red Sox will be carrying 14 pitchers to begin the year, that means the maximum number of position players they can carry on their 26-man Opening Day roster is 12.

Taking into account the nine players listed in the above lineup as well as the fact that backup catcher Kevin Plawecki is a lock to make Boston’s Opening Day roster, that would leave the club with two vacancies on their bench.

Among the players still at major-league camp, Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis have been two of the Sox’ most impressive performers as they compete for a spot on the team’s roster.

Both Arroyo and Chavis are redundant in that they both hit from the right side of the plate and are both limited to playing around the infield. But with Yairo Munoz being reassigned to the minor-leagues and Danny Santana sidelined while recovering from a right foot infection, there doesn’t seem to be much competition for them.

Jonathan Arauz is certainly an appealing option since he is a switch-hitter, but the Red Sox may feel it is in their best interest to start the 22-year-old infielder off at the alternate site this year so he can continue to develop.

Having written all that, here’s an early Red Sox Opening Day roster projection:

Starting rotation (5): Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta

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 (7): Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis

Outfielders (3): Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez

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

Red Sox’ Nathan Eovaldi evaluates his first start of the spring: ‘I was excited and rushing through everything, so it was not as crisp as I would like it’

For the first time in nearly a year, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi threw in front of fans on Sunday in the team’s Grapefruit League opener against the Twins.

Pitching in front of approximately 2,200 spectators at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, the 31-year-old was able to get some adrenaline flowing even before he took the mound in the first inning.

“Driving into the ballpark, there’s a lot of cars waiting to get in,’ Eovaldi said via Zoom. “They say 24% [capacity], you don’t know what that’s going to look like. Everybody’s spaced out, it looks like a full ballpark. So it’s exciting having the fans in there. They’re heckling a little bit. That’s part of the game, you miss it. Juices were definitely flowing. You’re facing another team in the batter’s box, you’re not facing your guys anymore, and you got the fans cheering. So it’s baseball again. It feels good.”

Eovaldi surrendered two earned runs on two hits, one walk, and one hit batsman to go along with two strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings of work on Sunday. He needed 38 pitches to record those four outs, 23 of which went for strikes.

“I was just excited,” said Eovaldi when asked to evaluate his performance. “I felt like I was rushing through my delivery. For the most part, my offspeed wasn’t very good. I felt like my fastball was good. The cutter I felt like was the best pitch today, I felt like I was locating it pretty well. Curveball was good. The slider and splitter not so much.”

Per Baseball Savant, the Houston native threw 18 four-seam fastballs, 10 cutters, five splitters, and five curveballs. It’s likely some of the sliders he threw registered as cutters.

Out of those 38 pitches thrown, Eovaldi eclipsed 97 mph 14 times, 98 mph nine times, and 99 mph four times. All in all, he topped out at 99.5 mph with his heater and averaged 97.9 mph on the radar gun with it.

“I’ve been feeling good all camp,” said the fireballer. “I feel like the velocity’s been there earlier on in the live BPs. In the offseason I have access to to one of the Rapsodos (performance measurement devices) as well, so I know the velocity’s been there. It’s usually not one of the things I have to worry about when getting ready.”

While velocity was not an area of concern for Eovaldi on Sunday, he did attribute some of his early struggles to how quickly he was moving on the mound, or his tempo, which is something he feels he can improve upon for his next outing.

“We’ll get back to the grind,” he said. “I think I got six days in between now, so I’ll be facing the Twins again at home. Body’s feeling good. I got the work in that I wanted to get. I got to work out of the stretch, deep into counts, all that. So overall, it’s obviously not what I wanted results-wise, but I got the work in and that was the main thing and I feel good.”

As he said himself, Eovaldi’s next start will come against the Twins at JetBlue Park next Saturday since the Red Sox are utilizing a six-man rotation to begin the spring.

“My arm feels good. As long as my tempo is there, the pitches are consistent,” Eovaldi stated. “I had times today where my tempo was there. It’s just the rhythm of my mechanics. It allows me to get out front and execute the pitches well. Today, I was excited and rushing through everything, so it was not as crisp as I would like it.”

Eovaldi, who turned 31 earlier this month, is on track to open the 2021 season — his third full campaign with the Sox — as the club’s No. 2 starter.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)