FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lefthander Josh Taylor emerged as one of the most important late-inning relievers for the Red Sox last year. He had a stretch of 26 consecutive scoreless appearances, forged a 3.40 ERA with a 28.7 percent strikeout rate, and his 61 appearances ranked second on the team.
But Taylor, who landed on the injured list at the end of the season with what was described as a back strain, likely will be unavailable for the start of this season as he continues to rehab from a herniated disk.
While Taylor returned to make six playoff appearances, the 29-year-old said that discomfort in his back persisted through the postseason, to the point where he needed an epidural injection just prior to his wedding. He had to decide between surgery and rehab and opted for rehab. While he believes that was the right choice for his long-term health, it has left him behind other pitchers this spring.
“It’s a little leftover from last year,” Taylor said. “I had that back issue and it’s still kind of lingering. We’re just progressing a little slower right now to try and get me back right.
“It’s not bad. It’s definitely way better than it was. I did a lot of work in the offseason to get it right. It’s a bit more strengthening right now to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Taylor has been throwing and expects to have his first two sessions off a mound this week. That represents progress, but he acknowledged disappointment with the near-certainty that he will open the year on the injured list.
“I love to compete. I love to play,” he said. “I’ll literally pitch through anything to be able to go and help the team, so it is kind of tough for me right now. I kind of feel like the dog sitting there, looking out the window, watching all his friends play.
“But right now, it’s a process we need to do and I think I’ll come out better for it.”
Sawamura settles in
The Red Sox signed Hirokazu Sawamura after spring training started last season. That cut down on how much time he had to adjust to a new league, a new team, and a new country after playing 10 seasons in Japan. That he arrived amid the pandemic didn’t help matters.
Overall, Sawamura handled it well. The righthander, who turns 34 next month, appeared in 55 games with a 3.06 earned run average. He was often the pitcher manager Alex Cora turned to when his starter ran into trouble.
“It fires me up when AC puts me in those situations,” Sawamura said via translator Yutaro Yamaguchi.
Sawamura quelled plenty of rallies, as opponents hit .143 with runners in scoring position against him and .168 with men on base in the regular season. But he also had a lofty 1.45 WHIP, a product of 32 walks over 53 innings.
The Sox want to see more strikes with his high fastball/diving splitter combination. They were much more effective when he challenged hitters.
“Go out there and attack, attack, attack,” Cora said. “Don’t try to set up hitters.”
Sawamura said his goal is to be aggressive throwing strikes and not to give in when he falls behind.
He also returned to camp with hair down to his shoulders, but the rock star look isn’t going to last.
“I need to find a Japanese hairstylist,” Sawamura said.
Not Story time yet
Trevor Story, who agreed to a six-year, $140 million deal Sunday morning, is not yet officially on the roster. That could happen Tuesday … Commissioner Rob Manfred was on hand at JetBlue Park. He was in the Red Sox clubhouse and dugout before the game, then spent some time with the front office executives … Lefthander Derek Holland and righthander Hansel Robles were added to the camp roster after agreeing to minor league contracts over the weekend. Robles is not yet in Florida as he awaits a visa from the Dominican Republic. Robles, 31, appeared in 27 games for the Sox last season with a 3.60 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Holland, 35, has 13 years of major league experience … The Sox expect to make their first round of cuts later this week, after road trips to play the Orioles in Sarasota Thursday and the Braves in North Port Friday.
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