NEW YORK — Jonathan Lucroy came into Red Sox spring training back in February revitalized. For three years, he had been playing with a herniated disc in his neck, diminishing much of his bat speed and, as a result, his success on the field.
From 2017–19, the two-time All-Star hit just .248, with 18 homers and a .666 OPS. But surgery this past offseason had Lucroy feeling like he could return to his old form. Plus, it helped that Ron Roenicke, his former manager from the Milwaukee Brewers, knew what he could do. Prior to the shutdown, you saw glimpses of Lucroy’s old form, as he hit .286 with a .464 on-base percentage in 21 at-bats.
In the team’s summer camp, Lucroy started hot, but cooled off toward the middle and end. His playing time waned. Though he made the Opening Day roster, he didn’t get an at-bat, and the team announced Wednesday it had designated Lucroy for assignment, recalling pitcher Chris Mazza from the alternate site in Pawtucket.
“We thought the more important move on that last roster spot was to have a pitcher that had some length to him,” Roenicke said before the game.
Kevin Plawecki became the favorable backup option at catcher toward camp’s end. In Plawecki’s limited action this season, he’s made a stronger case, going 4 for 7, including three hits (one double) Tuesday against the Mets.
The Sox went with pitching depth, something they desperately need, instead of a third catcher.
“I think he was certainly good in the first spring training,” Roenicke said. “He wasn’t getting hits like that in the second camp, but I know [hitting coach] Tim [Hyers], working with him every day in the batting cage, was really happy with his progress. I just wish we would have had opportunities to let him get out there and see what he could do. I think he’s healthy.”
Roenicke takes issue with Joe Kelly’s antics
Hours after Major League Baseball handed former Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly an eight-game suspension for, in part, whizzing pitches past the heads of Houston’s Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa on Wednesday night, Roenicke — who was Kelly’s bench coach in 2018 — doesn’t think intentionally hitting a batter should be a part of baseball’s culture.
“When I came up, I probably wouldn’t have said that,” Roenicke said. “There was a time when I understood it. I don’t really understand it anymore. I think most pitchers are beyond that. I know some of them still may throw at some people on purpose. We’ve talked about it. I don’t think there’s any place in the game for it. I know being in Anaheim all those years, [longtime manager] Mike Scioscia is dead against it.”
Kelly said he didn’t intentionally throw at anyone, citing his lack of control at times. He did walk two of the five men he faced, and was behind Bregman 3-and-0 when he threw behind him.
Houston’s sign-stealing scandal in 2017 might have motivated Kelly, though he wasn’t on the Dodgers team that lost the World Series to Houston in seven games that year.
“I would like to see it eliminated altogether,” said Roenicke, who said there shouldn’t be a distinction for where a player gets hit, “but for sure you can’t be throwing up near the head. If you want to come in on somebody and you don’t have any control, that’s a problem. You shouldn’t be throwing inside. If you’re going to pitch at people inside, you need to know where that ball is going.”
Rafael Devers keeping faith despite slow start
Rafael Devers was visibly frustrated after striking out with the bases loaded in the eighth inning Wednesday, a continuation of his slow start. Batting .200 after a 1-for-4 night, he’s abandoned much of his approach, chasing wildly out the zone, resulting in a lot of weak contact. Devers has also been sloppy in the field, committing three errors in the first five games among a few other misplays.
“I’m trying to improve on that part,” said Devers, who did help save the game in the ninth, keeping a Christian Vazquez pickoff throw and J.D. Davis single in the infield at critical junctures. “It’s something I try to control as much as I can. I try to play defense to the best of my ability. Errors are going to happen. That’s just a part of it. I’m still putting in the work like I usually do to try to improve defensively. That’s really what I’m going to continue to do.”
Devers has become a centerpiece, a role that became more pronounced last season when he hit .311 with 32 homers and a .916 OPS. Those numbers haven’t translated for him or these Sox, who have played underwhelming baseball.
“Obviously we haven’t gotten the start that we wanted to, but everyone has been positive,” Devers said. “They understand that it is a short season and we need to start playing better in order to achieve our goals.”
The team will take its first plane next week to play the Rays. Florida’s other team, the Miami Marlins, has had 18 players and staff members test positive for COVID-19. While startling, Devers said he feels comfortable traveling to what’s been a viral hotbed.
“I feel comfortable. The Red Sox have taken all the necessary precautions for us to be safe,” he said. “We do have to follow the rules and follow all the protocols that have been set in place. Not leave the hotel and just be real smart and careful about what’s going on.”
Xander Bogaerts gets a breather
Xander Bogaerts didn’t start Wednesday, though he did draw a pinch-hit walk during the eighth-inning rally. The team said he still wasn’t 100 percent from when he dove tagging out the Mets’ Amed Rosario running to third in the first inning Monday. The Sox expect Bogaerts to play Thursday . . . Former Red Sox pitcher Hector Velazquez was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Astros for a player to be named . . . The Sox will start Ryan Weber and Zack Godley in the Yankees series starting Friday, with Sunday still TBA. The hosts are going with Jordan Montgomery, Masahiro Tanaka, and James Paxton.