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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Alex Cora challenging Red Sox to be better defensively in 2021

Rafael Devers was among the many Red Sox who struggled defensively in 2020, and manager Alex Cora is making that an emphasis during spring training.
Rafael Devers was among the many Red Sox who struggled defensively in 2020, and manager Alex Cora is making that an emphasis during spring training.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Alex Cora made it clear that the Red Sox defense wasn’t up to par last season. The infield play was sloppy, Rafael Devers struggled to make routine plays at third, and there was a glaring hole at second as well as one in the outfield once Andrew Benintendi went down with a ribcage strain.

The Sox committed 45 errors (third-most in baseball) in just 60 games and ranked 20th with minus-2 defensive runs saved.

Even though Cora wasn’t a part of the staff in 2020, it still had his imprint. So, heading into spring training this year, Cora decided that the team would focus on defense, something the manager acknowledged it didn’t do in 2018-19 under his watch.

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Cora and his staff had to restructure their game plan at the spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. It’s already taking shape.

“Certain fields are dedicated for defense only,” Cora said Friday.

Fields 1 and 2, Cora said, will be dedicated to infielders. Field 1 will focus on offense only whereas Field 2′s focus will fall strictly on defense. Fields 2 and 3 will be for outfielders and will follow the same structure: one for offense and the other for defense. Fields 5 and 6 are for catchers and pitchers. The Red Sox now have a turf area near the clubhouse, which Jason Varitek will use to train catchers. Third base coach Carlos Febles is also expected to use that for infield drills. Additionally, part of the batting cage is now just for grounders.

“It is a way to get them up to what I want,” Cora said. “And at the same time with everything that is going on, to keep their mind away from the obstacles. Like I said, we’re lucky to be here, we’re lucky to be working, playing this game. I think we’re going to be more efficient [defensively]. This isn’t about range factor or all that stuff people measure, which is very important. But [more so] steps and angles, going toward the ball. I’m going to challenge them to be better. We have to be better defensively. That’s the bottom line.”

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Cora also added that the Sox hitters will use Rapsodo, a technological device that gives them instant feedback on exit velocity, launch angle, direction and spin axis.

Martín Pérez was the most consistent starter on Boston's beleaguered 2020 staff.
Martín Pérez was the most consistent starter on Boston's beleaguered 2020 staff.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Pérez a big part of it

Cora believes Martín Pérez can be a contributing factor to the Sox rotation again this year based on how he threw the ball in 2020.

“In a tough season, he was kind of the guy for the organization,” Cora said. “You know he competed. He had [one start] that I think that that changed the complexion of his numbers.”

Cora pointed to Pérez’s last start against the Baltimore Orioles, when he allowed six runs (all earned) in just four innings. Perez had a 3.88 ERA before that contest but saw it balloon to 4.50 on the year.

“But besides that, you know, he had some good ones,” Cora added. “When the velocity is up he’s really tough to hit. When it’s not there, he’s a great competitor. And that’s what we’re looking for. He can give you innings. It’s a different look. I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Going to bat for J.D.

J.D. Martinez didn’t put too much stock into last season’s numbers. He hit just .213 with seven homers but had just 237 plate appearances in the shortened season. Cora is banking on a better year for the slugger. “You know, J.D. got mad at me, because I only bet $1 a few months ago that he’s going to have a better season,” Cora joked. “Well, I’ll raise the bet to $5 you know, he’ll have a better season.” Whether it was a decline or just a bad year for Martinez is still yet to be determined. He wasn’t the only slugger who struggled. Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich hit just .200 with 12 homers in 247 plate appearances. “As far as numbers, it’s hard,” said Cora regarding what to make of players’ down seasons last year. “It counted, but it was a small sample season. And like I said, I bet you $5 J.D. is going to have a better season than last year.” ... Roughly 15 Sox pitchers threw a bullpen Friday, including Pérez … Eduardo Rodríguez will throw his first live batting practice of the spring Saturday. Other than that it will be an easy day for pitchers, but they will ramp up the workload on Sunday and Monday with more bullpens … Ryan Brasier (personal reasons) has yet to report to camp … Major League Baseball and the Players Association announced the first set of COVID-19 testing results Friday. The total number of positive tests was 13 out of 4,336 total samples. Nine of the positive tests are players and the other four are staff members. Eleven clubs had one or more individuals test positive.

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Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.