FORT MYERS, Fla. — Spring training came to a close Tuesday afternoon with the Red Sox’ 10-6 win over the Twins.
Players hustled through the clubhouse afterward, quickly packing their remaining bags. Jackie Bradley Jr. got in some last-minute family time with his wife, Erin, and their two kids.
The Sox begin the season with a three-game set against the Yankees in New York. But before that, here are some takeaways from the spring and what we might expect for the regular season.
Chris Sale (rib cage fracture) walked alone Tuesday on the warning track of a back field, pulling a weighted sled back and forth in the Florida heat. It was a dour scene for Red Sox fans, supplying another reminder that Sale, who was transferred to the 60-day injured list on Monday, is unavailable again. This time, he won’t be with the team until at least June.
While Sale might start throwing in next week, Cora said Sox won’t rush his rehab, so putting him on 60-day IL made the most sense to open a roster spot. Somehow this sight felt like evidence of mythological punishment. Atlas or Sisyphus? pic.twitter.com/da5rLxWipM— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) April 5, 2022
The rotation would be questionable even with Sale. But it’s in even worse shape heading into the season. Nate Eovaldi will get his third straight Opening Day start, and rightfully so. Yet after Eovaldi, it’s Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Michael Wacha, and Rich Hill, with Garrett Whitlock playing piggyback for multiple innings in the bullpen.
Houck can be dominant and should help this rotation. Having a full season in which he’s not on the shuttle between Triple A Worcester and the big leagues should help. Command can sometimes be an issue, but when he’s on, like in his last Grapefruit League start when he went six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits (solo homers), Houck can make hitters look foolish.
Pivetta is likely a No. 4 or 5 in an average to above-average rotation, but the Sox are hoping he takes another leap in 2022 after a promising 2021 (4.53 ERA in 155 innings plus 175 strikeouts), in part because the team trusted him to be a starter. Pivetta was often stuck between roles during his tenure with the Phillies.
Hill and Wacha remain huge question marks. The Sox, perhaps, are hoping those two, plus Whitlock, can get them to the summer, when Sale and James Paxton (Tommy John surgery) could return.
The bullpen might be the Sox’ biggest concern. Darwinzon Hernandez was optioned to Triple A and Josh Taylor (back) is unavailable to start the season. Hansel Robles was late arriving to spring training because of visa issues and had just two appearances, the second of which was Tuesday, when he went one inning, striking out two.
“Good fastball. Good slider,” said manager Alex Cora. “The stuff was good.”
The team will make a decision on him soon, and Cora remains confident that Robles could start the season on the roster. He will travel with the team to New York in case the Sox decide to add him.
Matt Barnes’s fastball velocity was 92-93 miles per hour this spring. He worked on a back field last week, throwing a simulated game against minor leaguers, and thinks he might have found something mechanical. Barnes noticed that he wasn’t staying closed/tight during his delivery.
“I’m definitely feeling good,” he said. “Feeling a lot better about things now more than I was even a week ago. I’m just going to continue to work.”
Some bullpen roles remain uncertain. Kutter Crawford was added to the mix, making the team out of spring training. The hope is that he can give the Sox multiple innings.
With rosters at 28 to begin the season, the Sox will carry 15 pitchers. They will certainly need it beginning April 15, when they start a stretch of 17 games in as many days.
“The pitching thing, the bullpen, we have to be very careful,” Cora said. “But that’s why we have 15 and we have multiple multi-inning guys. So I do believe we’re in a good spot where we add physically, it’s just a matter of now seeing where the schedule goes and attacking the right way.”
Cora left spring training satisfied with the team’s defense after the Sox committed the second-most errors in baseball (108) in 2021. The team implemented a system of ground ball routines that infielders practiced each morning ahead of team workouts.
“We’re very excited about [our defense],” Cora said. “It’s not easy to do it, and I think we committed four errors the entire camp. Numbers are numbers. But we made plays and we put in work.”
Adding Trevor Story at second base should give the middle infield more stability, allowing the rest of the defense to settle in. Bobby Dalbec has improved tremendously at first base, looking a lot more nimble and confident around the bag.
This franchise has been defined by offense, at least in recent years. The Sox have shown no signs of slowing down, and with Story, a natural pull hitter, Fenway Park should work to his advantage. Dalbec has shortened his swing, which should minimize at least some swings and misses. The Red Sox had a .777 OPS last year, which ranked third in the majors. We should expect more of the same in 2022.
Christian Vázquez traveled to Boston early Tuesday for the birth of his second child. He’s still expected to catch Eovaldi in Thursday’s opener. Kevin Plawecki, who worked well with Eovaldi last year, will catch him for his second outing, next week against the Tigers … Utility player Jonathan Araúz, like Robles, will travel to New York. But it remains to be seen if he makes the Opening Day roster … Major League Baseball informed clubs that it has approved electronic pitch calling, but Cora is uncertain if the Sox will use it this year. He did acknowledge, however, that the team is open to the idea.
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