PHILADELPHIA — The Red Sox unveiled their lineup at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday. You knew then it was going to be a difficult day.
Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez were given the afternoon off against tough Phillies righthander Zach Wheeler. Manager Alex Cora decided to take advantage of Monday’s scheduled off day to give them an extended break.
“It’s been a tough week,” Cora said.
The Sox had three 7:37 p.m. starts in Florida against the Blue Jays, and many of the players didn’t leave the ballpark until after midnight.
The team arrived here at roughly 4 a.m. on Friday, and the first two games of the series against the Phillies were long ones on hot nights.
“All those quick games early in the season, those were just a tease,” Cora said. “We’re back to who we are.”
If you want to get all John Wayne about this and complain about soft modern players, go ahead. But giving Bogaerts and Martinez a day game off after a night game made sense.
Cora made moves like this throughout the 2018 season, so the Sox would have something left in September and October. As you may recall, but many are quick to forget, they blitzed through the postseason.
When so many teams are dealing with significant injuries, protecting Bogaerts and Martinez with 114 games still to play seemed like an easy decision for Cora. That the Sox were already 4-1 on their six-game road trip didn’t hurt.
Cora described the 224-pound Bogaerts as the “most physical shortstop in the big leagues.” Given the demands of his position, occasional days off are needed, although Bogaerts usually resists.
“I can tell when he needs [time off],” Cora said.
Alex Verdugo, who strained a hamstring on Friday, also was out of the lineup. He pinch hit in the ninth inning and reached base on a force out, on second base when the game ended.
With three of their best hitters on the bench, the Sox were predictably held to four hits in a 6-2 loss. They were essentially helpless against Wheeler, who retired 17 in a row after Kiké Hernández started the game with a bloop single.
Hernández singled again with two outs in the sixth inning to force Wheeler into the stretch. Danny Santana drew a walk, and suddenly the Sox had Rafael Devers at the plate, down 4-0. Wheeler alternated fastballs and sliders and struck Devers out on five pitches.
Incredibly enough, this was the first game Devers batted third this season.
The Sox didn’t score a run against Wheeler until Franchy Cordero led off the eighth inning by launching a 474-foot blast that sailed over a corner of the second deck at Citizens Bank Park and landed on the concourse below. It was Big Franchy’s long-awaited first home run of the season.
Wheeler finished with 12 strikeouts over 7⅓ innings. No opposing pitcher had punched out 12 Sox since James Paxton of the Yankees on April 16, 2019, over eight innings.
Wheeler is 4-2 with a 2.38 earned run average. Bogaerts and Martinez could have made a difference, but not necessarily. Wheeler was that dominant.
“He’s really good,” Cora said. “He’s able to elevate with his fastball and he’s got a [sinker] to keep us honest and he threw his breaking ball a little bit . . . he’s one of the best. He’s very impressive.”
Eduardo Rodriguez is supposed to be on a level where he can match Wheeler, but he allowed four runs in the first inning on a day the Phillies rested struggling Bryce Harper.
At 29-19, the Sox are tied for first place in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won 10 straight. The Yankees are a half-game game behind.
For the first time since April 9, the Sox are not alone in first place. They also play their next 21 games against teams that made the playoffs last season, including getting their first taste of the Yankees. It sets up for a good summer, especially with ballparks coming back to full capacity.
Cora didn’t mail it in on Sunday. But he did play with an eye on the future and trying to get through a tough stretch still in first place.
The Sox were only up by one game after 48 games in 2018. He’s been here before and knows the right path.