TORONTO — Absences defined much of the Red Sox’ three-game series in Toronto this week. With both outfielder Jarren Duran and closer Tanner Houck on the restricted list because of their unvaccinated status that prevented them from traveling to Toronto, the Sox spent much of their three days discussing the players who weren’t there.
It is a conversation that the team hopes to change with its next visit to Toronto in September. While manager Alex Cora and the Red Sox have been consistent in suggesting that they “respect [the players’] decisions,” the manager said that he and team officials have not stopped discussing the merits of vaccination with their players.
Indeed, Cora suggested strongly that he expects one or more players who are currently unavailable to play in Toronto — a group that certainly includes Houck and Duran, both on the restricted list due to their unvaccinated status, and potentially Chris Sale (who said in March that he had not been vaccinated) and Kutter Crawford (placed on the restricted list when the Sox traveled to Toronto in April) — to be available when the Sox return to Toronto for the final weekend of the regular season and potentially the playoffs.
“I do believe when we come to [Toronto in] September, it’s going to be different,” said Cora. “Let’s leave it at that. I bet you a dollar it’s going to change.”
Houck and Duran worked out at Fenway on Wednesday and are scheduled to rejoin the team in Chicago for the weekend series against the Cubs that starts on Friday.
In the more immediate term, Cora said prior to Wednesday’s game that he would not dwell on the potential consequences of the players who were and were not available to him in Canada due to their vaccination status.
“I don’t get into that,” he said. “I respect [the players’] decisions. At the end of the day, the [Blue Jays] are a great example. They didn’t make excuses last year when they played in Dunedin, Buffalo and Toronto. I’m not going to make excuses. You give me 26, we’ll do our best to get 27 outs and win. It’s not perfect, and we all know that. At the end of the day, it is what it is and we’re going to keep moving forward.”
No lock to start
Righthander Garrett Whitock, dressed in full uniform, threw a bullpen session on Wednesday. He’ll throw another on Saturday in Chicago and also take part in fielding drills to test the hip injury that landed him on the injured list nearly three weeks ago.
Those steps suggest he’s getting closer to a return, but it’s no longer clear whether he’ll come back as a starter or reliever. Cora said that the team would have a “meeting of the minds” that includes coaches, front office members, and medical staff to determine whether Whitlock’s health and availability will be better served starting or coming out of the bullpen. Cora also noted that while Whitlock will likely need a rehab assignment to come back in either role, the righthander would be able to rejoin the staff more quickly as a reliever than as a starter.
“We’re talking about it,” said Cora. “The most important thing is to have him out there healthy. We’ll see.”
As has always been the case, Whitlock expressed no preference.
“Whatever can help the team this year and whatever they decide I need to do and whatever they think will help the team the most, I’m game for doing,” said Whitlock. “I’d rather have multiple roles than no role.”
While most pitchers wear a T-shirt for bullpen sessions, Whitlock said that he started throwing bullpens in full uniform this year after learning that Max Scherzer does so.
“I’m trying to make it as game-like as possible,” said Whitlock.
Nate Eovaldi threw a bullpen session at Fenway on Wednesday, his first since he landed on the injured list with a lower back injury on June 10. The Sox will reassess his next steps this weekend.
Homer to Storyland
Lost in the shuffle of Tuesday’s dismal Red Sox loss was an extraordinary homer by Trevor Story – a low-altitude hypersonic rocket that left the bat at 113.4 miles per hour with a launch angle of just 17 degrees. A day later, members of the Sox, including Story, were still shaking their heads that a ball hit with such a low trajectory could clear the 10-foot fences at Rogers Centre. “It never crossed my mind that it could go out,” confessed Story. “I ran literally my hardest until second [base]. I still didn’t know that it really went out.” The homer, Story’s 12th of the season and 170th of his career, had both the highest exit velocity and lowest launch angle of any round-tripper of his career … Story was out of the Red Sox starting lineup on Wednesday with the team facing Toronto mountain Alek Manoah, who has been one of the most unhittable starters in baseball for righthanded hitters … Righthander Bryan Mata, who is continuing to build back from Tommy John surgery he underwent in April 2021, worked at 95-98 m.p.h and touched 99 on Tuesday in his outing with Double A Portland, his first appearance in the upper levels of his rehab assignment.