CHICAGO — There will be no day off for the Red Sox on Monday after an eventful nine-game road trip that ended Sunday with a 4-2 victory in 11 innings against the Chicago Cubs.
Independence Day calls for a day game at Fenway Park against the Tampa Bay Rays. It will be the first of 17 in a row against American League East teams, a stretch that will be telling.
For now there is relief. After two dismal losses against the Cubs, the Sox scored two runs in the 11th on a two-out throwing error by pitcher Rowan Wick.
Jake Diekman managed to get the final three outs to end the longest game of the season, a tedious 4 hours and 25 minutes.
It wasn’t easy, of course. Diekman issued a one-out walk before striking out Christopher Morel and Narciso Crook to end it.
After a 20-6 June that got them back in contention for a playoff spot, the Sox could use another jolt as the season nears its midway point.
That seems more likely to come from within than via the trade market, at least for now.
The roster the Sox have now will be changing significantly over the next two weeks. Four of the eight players on the injured list are close to coming back.
Here’s a look at what to expect:
Rotation changes: Chris Sale is scheduled to pitch for Triple A Worcester on Wednesday. That would be his fourth and presumably final minor league rehabilitation start. How much more fine-tuning could be needed after that? It’s time for Sale to pitch in games that matter.
Nate Eovaldi, who hasn’t pitched since June 8 because of a back injury, is scheduled for a two-inning simulated game on Tuesday, so he should be back soon. His minor league stint may be only a game or two.
A rotation of Sale, Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Michael Wacha with either Connor Seabold or Josh Winckowski would be solid.
That assumes, perhaps too optimistically, that the “tired arm” causing Wacha to miss his start on Monday is not a more serious matter.
James Paxton should be an option at some point in August, as could Rich Hill depending on the severity of the knee injury that has him on the injured list.
Lineup changes: Kiké Hernández, who last played on June 7, should return soon from a hip flexor strain. He will need a few minor league games and those are expected to come later this week.
Hernández had a .613 OPS before his injury. The Sox hope the time off will lead to better performance at the plate.
But at what position? The Sox have been pleased with how Jarren Duran has played in center field. I asked Alex Cora how Hernández will fit in once he returns.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We have to wait and see. We have the whole week to play and obviously things happen.”
Notice he did not say that Hernández would go right back to center field.
Hernández has played well defensively in center. But, like the Dodgers once did, the Sox may decide his best role is as a super-utility player.
The other option would be right field. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been excellent defensively but the Sox can’t carry his .572 OPS in the lineup much longer.
Hernández has played parts of 75 games in right field in his career, although none in his two seasons with the Sox. But he’s got the speed and savvy to handle the position.
It seems evident the Sox want to keep Duran in center and continue to utilize his speed in the lineup.
“Jarren, he’s been amazing for us,” Cora said. “He’s playing good defense, running the bases, and putting good at-bats. We’re very pleased.”
Bullpen changes: Garrett Whitlock will be in the bullpen once he comes off the injured list, which should be this week. That should go a long way in improving the late-inning options.
More help is needed than that, but Whitlock’s presence is a good start. His ability to go multiple innings will make it much easier for Cora to manage the late innings with a lead.
Once Sale comes back, the Sox could drop Winckowski or Seabold into the bullpen. The other option would be a return to Triple A to stay on turn in case rotation help is needed.