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The Red Sox’ best leadoff man remains out of Alex Cora’s reach

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been searching for a suitable leadoff hitter to get on base for (from left) Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts.Jamie Squire/Getty

KANSAS CITY — Through Friday, the Red Sox were third in the majors in runs scored.

Remarkably, that has happened despite having the worst on-base percentage at the leadoff spot (.284) in the major leagues. The league average is .338.

It makes little sense, and you wonder how long the Sox can get away with having a series of weak hitters leading off.

The championship teams of 2004 (Johnny Damon), 2013 (Jacoby Ellsbury), and 2018 (Mookie Betts) had dynamic leadoff hitters.

The 2007 team tried Julio Lugo atop the order to start the season but gave up on that in mid-June. Terry Francona tried different players the rest of the season before settling on Dustin Pedroia for the playoffs.

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Alex Cora, a member of the 2007 team, is reliving Francona’s dilemma. He started the season determined Kiké Hernández would have the job but has since given opportunities to Christian Arroyo, Marwin Gonzalez, and Danny Santana.

It’s been a four-headed monster with no teeth. J.D. Martinez has come to the plate with men on base only 45 percent of the time. It was 63 percent in 2018.

“We’re working on it. Trying to find good matchups,” Cora said Saturday before a 7-1 victory against the Kansas City Royals. “Hopefully the guy we put in the leadoff spot comes through. We’re trying to be consistent, but we haven’t been. That’s real.”

Santana was 1 for 5 with an RBI on Saturday. He came into the game hitting .118 with a .211 on-base. The switch-hitter has batted first more this season (seven times) than he did from 2017-2020 (four times) with the Twins, Braves, and Rangers.

Santana was the fourth different leadoff hitter in as many games. Cora is making his decisions based on the opposing pitcher and who represents the best matchup.

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“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “We’re just searching right now.”

Cora remains opposed to the idea of moving Alex Verdugo and his .347 OBP into the leadoff spot. He wants to keep Verdugo second with Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Hunter Renfroe following.

There’s no Pedroia on this roster to take over the spot. But perhaps Triple-A outfielder Jarren Duran will do a passable impression of Ellsbury later in the season.

Duran has hit leadoff for Worcester and has a .363 OBP. But he has played only 29games in Triple A and nothing in the way chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has run the team suggests Duran will be rushed to the majors.

Sale has a plan

Chris Sale has his next bullpen sessions scheduled for Tuesday and Friday. With Worcester on the road, he will likely continue his rehab work with Double-A Portland at Hadlock Field.

Sale has picked up the pace in his comeback from Tommy John surgery in recent weeks.

According to Cora, Sale is scheduled for his first session of live batting practice July 1. A typical spring training progression would be two rounds of facing hitters before starting a game.

Garrett Whitlock had two scoreless innings on Saturday, the first of four thrown by the Red Sox bullpen in the victory.Jamie Squire/Getty

Feeling at home

The Red Sox have won seven of their last eight games at Kauffman Stadium, scoring 65 runs, and are 11-3 against Kansas City since 2018 . . . The Sox improved to 23-11 on the road with victories in seven of their last eight games . . . Brayan Bello, a 22-year-old righthander, allowed one run on two hits and struck out 10 with one walk in his second start for Portland on Friday. “Eye-opening,” Cora said. “The report said he was very aggressive, very efficient and with good stuff.” In Bello, Tanner Houck, and Josh Winckowski, the Sox are building starter depth that has taken the sting out of losing Bryan Mata and Thaddeus Ward to Tommy John surgery . . . Kansas City has Mike Minor scheduled to start the series finale Sunday. The Sox haven’t faced Minor since Sept. 26, 2019, when he was with Texas. That was the game when Minor shouted at a teammate to drop a foul pop-up so he could get another chance to strike out Chris Owings to get 200 on the season. Minor did strike out Owings and the Sox took exception to his lack of professionalism, Cora in particular. Minor is 6-10 with a 5.02 ERA since. Nate Eovaldi starts for the Sox.

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Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.