With a day off Monday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had time to flip between the College World Series to support his brother’s alma mater (Vanderbilt) and the first slate of Major League Baseball games being played under the watchful eye of umpires monitoring pitchers for sticky substances.
Overall, the games were business as usual. Sights such as Mets ace Jacob deGrom being met by an umpire and laughing as he gave his glove and hat up for inspection are a part of the new normal.
“First things first, the way the deGrom did it, he’s the best pitcher on the planet and he took no exception, so everybody should follow suit,” Cora said.
The league began its crackdown on outlawed substances Monday, and despite concerns about the pace of play, Cora said he didn’t notice any significant issues with the process.
“I didn’t see a problem,” Cora said. “It was just a normal day. I don’t know how much it changed the pace of the game and all that, but it seemed like every pitcher, they were OK with it.”
The Sox’ first experience with the new policy came Tuesday in their 9-5 extra-inning win against the Rays. Cora said he expected pitchers to abide knowing that eyes will be on them the rest of the season.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Cora said. “I don’t think you’re going to put yourself in a situation to get suspended — now, next week, in a month, in August or September. I don’t think pitchers are going to do that. They’re just going to pitch make adjustments if they have to make adjustments and keep moving forward.”
Wander Franco makes debut
The hype around the debut of the Rays’ Wander Franco, baseball’s top prospect, reminded Cora of the whirlwind that met young slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. when he entered the league in 2019.
“Very similar to the hype with Vladdy, right?” Cora said. “The only thing is that Vladdy, he’s Vladdy Jr.”
Welcome to the show 🤝 pic.twitter.com/Tieaif8BpC— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 22, 2021
Cora said the skill set of the 20-year-old infielder speaks for itself.
“Controls the strike zone, very athletic, versatile, he can do a lot of stuff on the field,” Cora said. “We saw him a little bit in spring training. Very physical for his age. He’s very strong. They got a good one. He’s a good player. Obviously, we want to get him out and not have a great week against us.”
With the Sox leading the AL East and the Rays just a half-game behind them, Cora said it was only right that there were added eyes on Franco’s first game.
“As far as the baseball world, it’s a big day, right?” Cora said before Franco went 2 for 4 with a double and a three-run homer. “The No. 1 prospect in baseball, he’s making his debut. He’s hitting second, playing third in a series that people are paying attention. And the future is bright for this kid.”
Caught in the moment
Worcester catcher Connor Wong arrived at Polar Park early Monday to pack up for the team’s road trip to Rochester.
“I got on the bus and was in a sleeper reading a book when [Worcester manager Billy McMillion] came looking for me and said, ‘You want to go to the big leagues?’
“Billy can be a jokester and I asked if he was messing with me. I wasn’t too sure. But it was true. It was an amazing feeling.”
Wong, 25, didn’t have any family or friends at Tropicana Field on Tuesday. But his fiancée, Danielle, is planning to be at Fenway Park on Friday along with other family and friends.
Wong, who was given No. 74, said he caught most of the major league pitching staff during spring training and feels comfortable working with them.
“I’ll work on getting to know them better this week,” Wong said.
Although Wong was hitting just .148 with one homer and seven RBIs with the Triple A team, Cora said he impressed in spring training and earned the trust of the pitching staff.
“I do believe the people that saw him last year and the people are working with him this year, they’re very comfortable with him ― I’m very comfortable,” Cora said. “We talk a little bit in spring training, it’s something about him that just there’s calm behind the plate. There’s not a lot of emotion. He just goes about his business. He’s a good athlete.”
Wong was called on in the 11th to run for J.D. Martinez and soon scored what proved to be the winning run.
With catcher Kevin Plawecki still nursing tightness in his left hamstring after chasing down an errant throw in Sunday’s loss to the Royals, Cora said he intends to use Wong in Plawecki’s role. He is expected to start Sunday.
Second baseman Christian Arroyo, who also left Sunday’s loss after suffering a bruise on his right shin, was available.
“He’s banged up, just sore,” Cora said. “He got treatment [Monday] and he’s going to get treatment [Tuesday]. Hopefully, he’ll be available tomorrow but we’ve just got to be smart about it, especially with that surface [at Tropicana Field]. It’s hard enough when you’re healthy. I can’t imagine when you’re a little bit banged up.”
Better and better
Chris Sale threw another bullpen session in Portland with the Sea Dogs. He’s scheduled to throw again Saturday against hitters. “We’re going to push it back because of the schedule that we have, getting in late,” Cora said. “But so far, so good. He’s in a good position. He feels great.” . . . Hunter Renfroe, who played for the Rays last season, was presented with his American League champions ring by manager Kevin Cash before the game.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.