FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom suggested Masataka Yoshida would hit leadoff when the Red Sox signed the Japanese left fielder in December. A career .421 on-base percentage with the Orix Buffaloes certainly suggested he was the man for the job.
But manager Alex Cora shot that idea down on Sunday.
“This whole thing about Yoshida leading off, I don’t know,” Cora said. “If I mentioned it, I didn’t mean to. He might lead off, but he might hit in the middle of the lineup. That’s what he’s done his whole career. I think it’s about personnel and who we have.”
Cora is focused on how best to use Rafael Devers and wants him to hit second.
“We’ve got a lot of lefties, a lot, and they’re really good . . . my main goal is to keep Raffy and Yoshida split up and keep Raffy in the second spot,” Cora said. “That would be great.”
That suggests Yoshida would hit fourth or fifth.
“I’m pretty sure with Raffy, he’s hitting second or fourth with Yoshida maybe fourth [or] leadoff. I’m starting to have a better feel with those guys.”
With only a few exceptions, Yoshida hit third or fourth in Japan.
The Sox do not have a prototypical leadoff hitter. Cora mentioned Kiké Hernández, who held the job for much of the 2021 season and had a .342 on-base from that spot.
Alex Verdugo is another possibility. He has hit leadoff 42 times in his career with good results (.288/.341/.412).
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Verdugo said. “Big league lineup is all I care about. I hit the way I hit no matter where I am in the lineup.”
Verdugo was 2 for 2 in Sunday’s 7-6 victory against the Rays.
“We’re excited about him,” Cora said.
The Sox tried Jarren Duran at leadoff 39 times last season. He had a .285 OBP. With Yoshida, Verdugo, and Adam Duvall seemingly having outfield spots locked up, Duran may be a spot starter or open the season in Triple A.
However it plays out, the Sox need better production at the top. Their leadoff hitters had a .295 OBP last season, the fourth-lowest in the majors
Brayan Bello back on the mound
Righthander Brayan Bello, who was held back by forearm soreness, threw 20 pitches off the mound in the bullpen and felt fine.
“I felt really good to be out there today,” said Bello, who was restricted to only fastballs and changeups.
The question becomes if the 23-year-old will have time to get ready for the season. Bello has yet to face hitters and the Sox certainly won’t rush one of their best young prospects.
“I feel good. I’m pushing myself to be ready for Opening Day,” Bello said via a translator. “In the beginning I was worried because I didn’t know what it was, but I’m fine now.”
Chris Sale came out of his session of live batting practice on Saturday feeling good. He is lined up for two innings against hitters on Thursday and a Grapefruit League game on March 7.
All about timing
Yoshida was given an automatic strike by umpire Brian Knight for not being in the box on time. Pitchers Josh Winckowski and Jacob Webb were tagged for throwing an extra warm-up pitch after the allotted time. “I think it’s good they’re calling it tight in spring training,” righthander Kutter Crawford said. “We need to get ready” . . . Hernández will play center field for Puerto Rico in the WBC, but Cora will keep him at shortstop until he leaves. “That’s their problem,” he said with a little smile . . . Sunday’s game drew a crowd of 8,151, short of a sellout . . . After being away from the team for a few days with an illness, Trevor Story was back in the clubhouse.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.