FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Houston Astros used 144 lineups in 162 games last season. Their two most common lineups were used four times each.
Keep that in mind when the Red Sox season starts Thursday. Alex Cora, the former Houston bench coach, is going to construct lineups much the same way A.J. Hinch does with the Astros.
Cora believes that starting players should be rested as a matter of policy, not only when they start to wear down. The idea is to have a team ready for the postseason, not one dragging like the Sox were last October.
“I want us fresh for the end of the season,” Cora said last week. “We’re going to need everybody on our roster to do that.”
Hinch often gave players like Jose Altuve or George Springer a day off last season when they were in hot streaks. Because they were on the bases more, it made sense to give them a break then. The idea was to keep a hot streak going, not wait until it ended.
Cora also wants to build lineups based on ballpark configurations. For instance, using J.D. Martinez in right field at Fenway Park makes little sense given all the ground to cover. But playing him in right field at Yankee Stadium would. That would be an opportunity to play Mookie Betts in center.
The reason Cora likes Blake Swihart so much is because a third catcher would allow him to pinch hit for Sandy Leon more easily. Plus Swihart would get starts at first, third and left.
The Sox play four games on Tampa Bay’s turf to open the season. Cora is already planning which players he’ll sit for a game so they don’t get sore right out of the gate.
So when lineups come out before games, don’t be surprised when they change most every day. Cora won’t be afraid to use his bench or ignore small sample sizes against opposing starters. He’s going to do what he believes is right, not what tradition dictates.
A few other thoughts on the Red Sox as training camp winds down:
■ When Manny Machado slid into Dustin Pedroia last April 21, the Red Sox said the resulting injury to his left knee was “inflammation.”
That was quite a euphemism. Pedroia needed cartilage restoration surgery after the season along with a microfracture procedure on his tibia. But in the 89 games he played after Machado’s dangerous slide on April 21, Pedroia hit .299 with a .376 on-base percentage.
Pedroia recently started a running program but is not close to playing in games. That may not be until some time in May. His first major league game is still a ways off. The Sox are still working on where he will spend the coming weeks.
■ Based on defensive metrics, the Red Sox will have four below-average defenders in their infield to start the season. It will be interesting to see how Cora utilizes Brock Holt late in games. Would it be better to have him replace Eduardo Nunez at second or Rafael Devers at third?
■ Mitch Moreland has quietly had an .827 OPS in 14 Grapefruit League games. The addition of J.D. Martinez seems sure to cost Moreland playing time, but he has maintained a positive view about his status throughout.
Moreland is a player who commands a lot of respect in the clubhouse.
■ You will no doubt be stunned to learn that Jacoby Ellsbury is expected to start the season on the disabled list with the Yankees. He strained an oblique muscle earlier this month. He is 1 for 14 in six spring training games.
Ellsbury has three years and $63.43 million left on his contract.
■ Scott Boras represents Jose Altuve, who earlier this month agreed to a five-year, $151 million extension with the Astros. Boras generally advises his clients to test the free agent market, but Altuve, who is 27, wanted to stay in Houston and make a deal.
The Red Sox connection is that Boras also represents 25-year-old Xander Bogaerts and 27-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. If the Red Sox were to pursue extensions with those players — and nothing is brewing at the moment — remember that Boras ultimately is employed to do what the client wants.
■ Red Sox fans should be rooting for Pablo Sandoval to make the Giants. At least then San Francisco would be responsible for paying Sandoval the MLB minimum of $545,000. If he is released, the Sox will add that to the $17,455,000 they already owe him for this season.
The $545,000 could be helpful if the Sox need to add a player via trade during the season while trying to keep their payroll under the highest tier of the luxury tax, which is $237 million.
Craig Edwards of Fangraphs.com wrote an interesting piece about which teams have the most “dead money” on their payroll.
The Sox lead the way with $30.15 million. They are paying off $17.45 million on Sandoval and $11.7 million on Rusney Castillo.
Edwards calculated that 13.1 percent of the Red Sox payroll is dead money.
■ When the Sox traded Deven Marrero to Arizona, it bumped Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas down to Triple A Reno.
Tomas is the Castillo of the National League. He has three years and $42.5 million left on his contract. Castillo, who was re-assigned to minor league camp by the Red Sox on Saturday, has three years and $35.5 million left on his deal.
■ Understandably so, Dave Dombrowski gets a lot of grief for trading Travis Shaw. But the deals for Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale continue to look like winners.
Anderson Espinoza, the prospect traded to San Diego for Pomeranz, didn’t pitch last season because of elbow soreness and had Tommy John surgery in August. The Padres expect him to miss all of this season, too.
Pomeranz, meanwhile, has appeared in 34 games for the Sox and has a 3.68 ERA.
■ When Cora interviewed with the Arizona Diamondbacks (and other teams) after the 2016 season, he tried to impress general manager Mike Hazen with detailed knowledge of the organization’s prospects.
“I knew the ins and outs of the organization. But I felt that didn’t work,” Cora said. “I was interviewing to be the manger, not the farm director.”
When he sat down with the Sox, Cora ignored the peripheral matters and told them how he planned to manage the major league team. That’s what got him the job.
■ Cora studied up on his new players during the winter. But after seeing them in person, a few things stood out.
“When Jackie [Bradley] squares up a ball, there’s solid contact,” he said. “I knew he has power but not that kind of power. He flips balls off the wall like nothing.”
Cora also has been impressed by how well Bradley, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi play together in the outfield.
“I’ve never seen anything like that, the way they move and communicate,” he said. “There was a ball down the line in one game and I thought, ‘[Expletive], that’s a double.’ But Mookie was right there.
“Now that I’m here and I see them, there’s no way Jackie doesn’t win a Gold Glove.”