CHICAGO — The Red Sox are fighting for their playoff lives and Xander Bogaerts essentially had the day off Sunday against the White Sox.
The All-Star shortstop made a brief cameo in the eighth inning of a 2-1 loss, grounding out to second and playing two innings in the field.
Bogaerts was out for nine days after testing positive for COVID-19, returned to the team Friday and was 2 for 6 with three walks in two games.
Bogaerts also made what may have been the best defensive play of his career in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday night.
In an 8-8 game, Bogaerts ranged far to his left, slid on his knees to stop a sharply hit ball by César Hernández. While still sliding, he twisted around and made a strong throw to first.
The Red Sox went on to win, 9-8, in 10 innings.
But Bogaerts was bolted to the bench when the game started Sunday with the Red Sox a game ahead of the Blue Jays and Yankees in the chase for the first wild-card spot. They had only four hits and struck out 13 times.
The plan is for Bogaerts to play only two of the three games against the Mariners in the now-crucial series that starts Monday night in Seattle.
That will likely be Monday and Tuesday with Bogaerts out of the lineup Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s day off so he can get two in a row.
After that he’ll play out the schedule.
So what gives? Bogaerts is 28, not 38.
Manager Alex Cora pointed out that Sunday was a day game after a night game. It’s also true that the first two games of the series took eight hours to play and Bogaerts was on the field for all 19 innings.
“We have to make sure he’s close to 100 percent and that’s why we gave him [Sunday] off,” Cora said.
Let’s pause here to remember that Bogaerts tested positive for COVID-19. He felt no symptoms but was quarantined in a Florida hotel room for those nine days. His chief baseball activity was watching it.
This is largely uncharted territory for every team’s medical staff. So the Red Sox are being careful with one of their cornerstone players. The hope is that less now will mean more later.
“It’s hard. But you still have to be smart,” Cora said. “This is a give-and-take, right? I love the fact that sometimes they fight it.”
Cora managed this way in 2018 to the team’s benefit. He doled out ample time off and the Red Sox roared through the playoffs.
The extra rest is what allowed Chris Sale to come out of the bullpen and close out Game 5 by carving up villainous Manny Machado.
It can go wrong, too. A year later, the Red Sox were so careful with how they used the players in spring training who weren’t prepared when the season started.
Fans and media often romanticize the idea of “grinding it out” or “playing hurt” and those are tangible qualities. We appreciate a player who is always in the lineup.
But data has replaced emotion. Teams have dozens of measurables that let them know when somebody needs a rest. They chart how fast a player is running, throwing, and swinging. Every rep in the weight room is recorded, too.
When the arrows start to point down, Cora gets a nudge that a day off is needed sometime soon.
“We pick and choose the days,” Cora said. “There are certain times we go against it … it’s constant communication. In the end, you have to trust the whole process.”
Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and other players over the years have told Cora that the days off they initially resisted benefited them.
The Red Sox also are reading the room a bit. They’re 8-8 since the start of their COVID outbreak, which is pretty good considering all the call-ups they’ve had to use.
They also play nine of their remaining 17 games against the Orioles and Nationals.
The Red Sox didn’t give the game away Sunday, but they decided it was the right time to give Bogaerts a break and would live with the results.
What they got was a walkoff loss when Leury Garcia homered off Garrett Whitlock. The Sox have lost 5 of 7 but aren’t too concerned.
“We feel good going to Seattle,” Cora said.