FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was only a few weeks after the Red Sox signed Corey Kluber in January when manager Alex Cora decided the righthander would be his Opening Day starter.
That Kluber merited the assignment was part of it. He’s a two-time Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star who made five consecutive Opening Day starts for Cleveland from 2015-19.
The other factor was personal. Chris Sale was the Red Sox’ Opening Day starter in 2018 and 2019 before a series of injuries ruined his next three seasons. Cora wanted him to enjoy the festivities, then pitch Game 2.
Cora made his decision public on Wednesday, saying Kluber would face the Baltimore Orioles on March 30 at Fenway Park.
“I think it’s awesome,” Sale said. “I recruited [Kluber] for three offseasons to try and get him to come here. We have the same agent [B.B. Abbott] and we’ve been around each other a lot.”
Kluber, whose default demeanor is a well-honed calm, wasn’t quite as excited.
“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “I think that there are plenty of guys in this clubhouse who could have taken the ball on Opening Day. The way I look at it, regardless of who pitches the first day or the fifth day, it really doesn’t matter.
“I’ve done it before. I try and make it as normal as possible.”
Kluber appreciated Cora telling him in advance.
“He gave me as much time as possible to prepare for it,” Kluber said. “It’s not just the stuff on the field, there’s other things that come with it. From his experience in playing, he gets that sort of thing.”
At 36, Kluber would be the oldest Opening Day starter for the Sox since 40-year-old Curt Schilling in 2007. Kluber is 0-4 with a 4.01 ERA in his previous Opening Day starts.
Of more immediate importance is that Kluber has pitched well since agreeing to a one-year, $10 million contract. He held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run over five innings Wednesday and struck out six.
“A step in the right direction,” he said.
Kluber has pitched 12⅔ innings in four spring training starts and allowed three earned runs. The plan is for him to work six innings Monday, then back off to four in his final spring start.
The Red Sox have a day off in the schedule Thursday, but Sale will report to JetBlue Park to pitch four innings in an intrasquad game to stay on turn.
Tanner Houck, Kutter Crawford, and Nick Pivetta are the other pitchers expected to be in the rotation to open the season.
Whitlock goes two
Garrett Whitlock retired six of the seven batters he faced, striking out three in his Grapefruit League debut. The righthander has been brought along carefully after undergoing hip surgery in September.
“It felt good. A lot of fun to get out there and see some different competition,” Whitlock said. “I don’t feel the hip, it’s not a thought in my head.”
Said Cora: “He moved better today than he moved the whole season last year. Those are good signs.”
Righthander Brayan Bello faced 11 hitters and threw 36 pitches in a simulated game. He struck out four and allowed three hits.
“I felt really good,” said Bello via a translator. “I feel excited.”
Bello, who was sidelined by a sore arm early in camp, will pitch in a game next week. He is roughly a week behind Whitlock.
If body language is any indication, and it often is, Bello is just fine physically. He strutted a bit after throwing good pitches, and at one point threw a fastball on the corner and called a third strike on the hitter from the mound.
Hernández, Puerto Rico advance
Kiké Hernández was 2 for 4 with an RBI as Puerto Rico advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic with a 5-2 victory that eliminated the Dominican Republic. Christian Vàzquez homered for Puerto Rico. Rafael Devers was 0 for 4 for the DR and finished the tournament 2 for 16.
Puerto Rico plays Mexico on Saturday.
Mexico is 3-1 in the World Baseball Classic and through to the quarterfinals despite Alex Verdugo being 1 for 16. He was 0 for 4 with an RBI in Wednesday’s 10-3 victory against Canada. Jarren Duran was 0 for 1 and is hitless in five at-bats in the tournament.
Richard Bleier threw 1⅔ scoreless innings for Israel in a 5-1 loss against Venezuela. The lefthander worked 2⅔ scoreless innings in two appearances, striking out four. Sharon native Jake Fishman, who plays for the Athletics, made his first appearance in the tournament on Wednesday and allowed a run in one inning.
Taiwan played its last World Baseball Classic game Sunday, but infielder Yu Chang has yet to arrive at Red Sox camp. Cora said he has been delayed by a visa issue … The Sox reassigned lefthanded reliever Matt Dermody to minor league camp despite his throwing 8⅓ scoreless innings over four games and striking out 10 without a walk.