FORT MYERS, Fla. — The lineup Alex Cora put together to play the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday is probably what you will see against the Yankees and Gerrit Cole on Opening Day next week.
“Very close,” the manager said.
It had Kiké Hernández leading off followed by Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo, Trevor Story, Bobby Dalbec, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Christian Vázquez.
Cora wants to spread his lefthanded hitters out, which is why Devers is second and Verdugo fifth.
“I’m loving Raffy hitting second, I think,” he said. “He loved it in ‘19 [when he had a 1.032 OPS in 335 plate appearances from that spot]. There’s going to be a few times when he’ll hit lower, probably against lefties. But against righties probably that’s where he’s going to be.”
Cora suggested Story could hit second against lefthanders with Devers batting cleanup.
Devers returned the love against the Braves with a two-run home run over everything in left field off Ian Anderson. The starters were 10 for 23 with four extra-base hits in a 10-7 victory. Story was 1 for 2 with an RBI single and a walk in his first Grapefruit League game.
“There’s a lot of good lineups out there,” Cora said. “Ours is up there, too.”
Story, who got a hand from the crowd of 6,759 when he came to the plate for the first time, agrees.
“I was telling Bogie, I looked at the board and we have a sick lineup,” he said. “Today, we showed the potential of what we can do. I’m looking forward to more of that.”
Uneven start for Tanner Houck
Tanner Houck allowed one run on five hits over four innings against the Braves. He struck out four without a walk.
“It was a lot better today,” Houck said.
Cora didn’t necessarily agree. Houck also hit two batters, threw a wild pitch, and had scattershot command of his fastball.
“He was OK,” the manager said. “I believe we have to stay in the zone a little more. There was a lot of traffic out there. Getting that fastball in the [strike] zone is very important for us.”
Houck has put 19 runners on base over nine innings in three starts. He has one more start in Florida before facing the Yankees in the third game of the season.
“I think a lot of it is overdoing it, reaching back and trying to reach higher on the velo,” Houck said.
Houck felt he showed improvement against the Braves. The Sox will want to see more on Monday.
Who’s the backup shortstop? Ostensibly it’s utility player Christian Arroyo, but it’s possible Story could move over from second base and Arroyo plays second.
Cora wants to get Story’s opinion on this. Some players learning a new position prefer to stay there. Others are fine with moving around. Marcus Semien signed with Toronto to play second base last season, but started 14 games at shortstop and played above-average defense.
“If [Story] is comfortable, we’ll do it,” Cora said.
Worth noting: Arroyo has played only 13 innings at shortstop in major league games since 2018, but has 562⅔ innings at second base.
Edge to Hill?
Rich Hill and Garrett Whitlock are competing for a rotation spot, or so the Sox say. But Cora said Whitlock would be available out of the bullpen on Opening Day. Hill is starting Friday’s game at Tampa Bay while Whitlock is scheduled to pitch in a minor-league game . . . Righthanded reliever Hansel Robles, who was signed to a minor league contract on March 21, has been delayed in the Dominican Republic on a visa issue but could arrive on Thursday night . . . Many of the Sox regulars have been getting extra at-bats in minor league games this spring. But with the Triple A players breaking camp on Friday, they’ll be more cautious as pitchers from lower levels don’t have the same control. “Nothing against the kids, but you feel more comfortable with them facing Double A [and] Triple A teams,” Cora said.