José Iglesias cracked a grin as he sat down in the home dugout at Fenway Park on Tuesday afternoon.
He was more than eight years and 3,000 big league at-bats from his initial big league run in Boston from 2011-13 — a stretch that came to an end when he was dealt at the 2013 trade deadline in a three-way deal that netted the championship-bound Red Sox Jake Peavy.
Yet despite the distance of time, the surroundings still felt familiar, as did the team for whom he was once again playing.
Iglesias, who was released by the Angels last week, signed with the Red Sox on Monday morning. In so doing, he rejoined the team with whom he began his professional career in 2009 after defecting from Cuba.
“It’s special,” said Iglesias, now 31. “I’m very happy to be back where I call home, the organization that got me to where I’m at today.”
Iglesias — who won’t be eligible for the postseason because he joined the Red Sox after Aug. 31 — was having an uninspiring season with the Angels. He hit .259/.295/.375 in 114 games. He was released in what he characterized as a “mutual agreement” with the Angels.
“It was time for me to go and help someone else and get at-bats,” said Iglesias. “I feel great. I’m in the best moment of my career. I feel like I can help someone else.”
That someone became the Red Sox, who are navigating a desperate middle infield shortage. Though Kiké Hernández returned from the COVID-19 injured list Tuesday, he’ll chiefly play center field. Meanwhile, the team’s three primary middle infield options (Xander Bogaerts, Christian Arroyo, and Yairo Muñoz) are on the COVID-19 list, creating an opening for a player known for his defensive artistry.
That said, at least one public defensive metric — Defensive Runs Saved — pegged him as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball (21 runs below average) this year. While other defensive metrics had him as slightly below average, Iglesias suggested that he expected an overall uptick in his performance with a change of scenery and a return to a pennant race.
“I like to play for something,” said Iglesias. “The numbers are not there. Not to find excuses, but energy has a lot to do with it. For me, I’m not concerned at all [about the bad defensive numbers]. Zero concern about my defense or my stats on defense. It’s something I definitely have to improve number-wise. But I know it’s all about energy for me.”
Iglesias started at short for the second straight game Tuesday and batted eighth, going 1 for 4 in the 12-7 loss. As players return, he’ll fill in at short, second, and third.
“I told [manager Alex Cora], I’m here to help the team — catcher, first base, it doesn’t matter,” said Iglesias. “Playing for an organization like this, putting on a uniform like this, getting to play with players like I have in this organization, it’s a big responsibility for me to represent such a great organization. I don’t take it for granted.”
Hernández, who spent 10 days in a Cleveland hotel after testing positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 27, was activated and inserted into the lineup as the leadoff hitter and center fielder.
“It felt a lot longer than 10 days. The first day and a half was pretty miserable and then after that the symptoms kind of drifted away,” said Hernández, who went 0 for 5. “I’m glad that I was vaccinated because this thing got me pretty good for a day and a half. I’ve heard from some other people not just in baseball but throughout this whole thing that have felt symptoms for way more than a day and a half.”
While Hernández might see some time at second base, Cora plans to use him primarily in center, Alex Verdugo in left, and Hunter Renfroe in right to anchor an outfield defense that has endured a rash of misplays in recent weeks.
“Kiké's going to play a lot of center field,” said Cora. “I do believe those three together are a special unit and they can help us win ballgames.”
Pivetta tests positive
Pitcher Nick Pivetta, who was scratched from his start and placed on the COVID-19 injured list Sunday, tested positive Tuesday. It is a breakthrough infection that, to date, is asymptomatic.
Cora said that the Red Sox will “make adjustments” to their rotation as necessary, though he left open the possibility that Pivetta may be able to return as soon as the weekend series against the White Sox. Some vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals have returned from the COVID-IL in fewer than 10 days.
If Pivetta can’t start, Triple A WooSox righthanders Kutter Crawford (who made his big league debut Sunday) and Connor Seabold would be options.
The Sox are hopeful Bogaerts can be activated Friday, when he’s first eligible to come off the COVID list. Arroyo, however, may miss more than 10 days given the severity of his COVID symptoms.
With Hernández and Danny Santana activated off the COVID list Tuesday, the Sox designated infielder Taylor Motter for assignment and optioned Franchy Cordero to Worcester. Motter, whom the Red Sox claimed off waivers from the Rockies last week, was 2 for 6 in three games with the Sox.
On his way back
Lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez, out since July 31 with an oblique strain, joined Triple A Worcester on a minor league rehab assignment. Cora said Hernandez (2-2, 3.44 ERA) might pitch again Wednesday in Worcester.
The absence of the power lefty has left a notable hole in the Sox bullpen. Though his command is inconsistent, Hernandez has struck out 29.9 percent of the batters he’s faced this year (second highest on the Sox), while holding hitters to a .200 average.