The Red Sox have until Thursday morning to submit their roster for the Division Series to Major League Baseball.
They plan to use all the time they have to figure it out.
“We’ve got a number of discussions to take place,” manager John Farrell said before the Red Sox lost to the Houston Astros, 4-3, in the regular-season finale Sunday at Fenway Park.
The only decision Farrell was prepared to announce was the most obvious one: Chris Sale will start Game 1 in Houston on Thursday, which will be at 4:08 p.m. Game 2, also in Houston, will be at 2:05 p.m. on Friday.
Sale will have eight days of rest before he pitches, twice the usual amount. But the Red Sox aren’t planning any sort of simulated game for their ace. They feel the extra rest will serve him well.
Because the Sox clinched the American League East on Saturday, Sale was scratched from his start on Sunday. The lefthander is 5-1 with a 1.31 earned run average in six career starts against Houston, the last ones coming in 2016.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch declined to name his starter, which is expected to be Justin Verlander. That Dallas Keuchel threw a brief simulated game on the mound at Fenway Park on Sunday indicated he was being lined up for Game 2 on Friday.
The Sox faced Verlander twice this season when he was with the Detroit Tigers. The righthander allowed only three earned runs on eight hits over 12 innings. But he walked six and struck out only seven.
Verlander is 5-5 with a 2.88 ERA in 17 career starts against the Sox.
Verlander has faced the Sox once in the postseason, the epic third game of the 2013 ALCS at Comerica Park in Detroit. He lost, 1-0, against John Lackey on Mike Napoli’s home run to center field in the seventh inning.
Before Keuchel took the field, the Sox ran Eduardo Nunez through a workout to test his sprained right knee. The infielder took groundballs and then a round of batting practice that included some base running.
“I felt great,” Nunez said. “Every day is better. I’ll be ready for Thursday.”
Video: Nunez batting and running
The Sox will conduct a simulated game Monday for Nunez, giving him at-bats against Roenis Elias. He also will run the bases with more intensity. That should give the Sox better sense of his readiness.
“While everything points to Eduardo being on the roster, I don’t know exactly what his capacity is going to be,” Farrell said. “All those are to be determined.”
Nunez, who was an offensive force after being acquired from the San Francisco Giants, has missed 18 of the last 19 games since being injured.
The Sox aren’t sure if he’ll be able to play defense for more than a few innings. That will affect how the roster is constructed.
The other issue is that second baseman Dustin Pedroia started only eight of the final 15 games because of an injured left knee.
He expects to be ready for Game 1, but every step Pedroia takes on the bases or in the field has the Sox holding their breath.
“You win the division; you’re going to the postseason. We still have a lot of questions physically,” Farrell said. “This is still going to be a little bit of a moving target.”
Because of the uncertainty with Nunez and Pedroia, the Sox are planning to carry an extra bench player instead of an additional relief pitcher. Along with Brock Holt, Deven Marrero could be on the roster.
“The infield is going to need some coverage,” Farrell said.
Marrero offers the additional benefit of strong defense at third base as a late-inning substitute for rookie Rafael Devers.
An extra infielder will make selecting the bullpen even more difficult as the Sox plan to carry 11 pitchers.
“There’s going to be some guys that are disappointed, plain and simple,” Farrell said. “Guys that have been contributors.”
Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed, David Price, and Joe Kelly seem sure to be the primary late-inning relievers. Selecting the others will be a challenge.
Matt Barnes, Austin Maddox, Robby Scott, Carson Smith, and Brandon Workman have good cases. To a lesser degree, so do Fernando Abad, Blaine Boyer, and Heath Hembree.
The Sox also could elect to drop one of their starters into bullpen.
“Guys get it. I think there are different degrees of decisions when it comes to who’s active and who’s not,” Farrell said. “Those explanations are deserved to the individuals and we’ll provide those.”
Those decisions will be very specific to the Astros and their hitters, a topic the Sox have plenty of information on after finishing the regular season with four games against Houston.
The Sox will get their usual scouting report but also the benefit of the coaching staff evaluating the Astros in person.
“Firsthand experience and familiarity helps,” Farrell said. “Particularly with a team that you don’t [often] see. . . . You’re seeing firsthand how things could potentially shape up.”