SARASOTA, Fla. — Other than Matt Barnes, no Red Sox pitcher has appeared in more games over the last four seasons than Heath Hembree, 189 in all, including 129 over the last two years.
He’s never had a save, but Hembree has filled every other role in the bullpen.
“I take pride in being durable and being available every time out,” Hembree said before the Red Sox played the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. “I fight to make sure I’m healthy and can stay on the field.
“There’s a lot of days I might show up and feel crappy and wonder if I can get an inning in the game. But that’s part of a big league season. You’re not going to feel good every day.”
The Red Sox don’t necessarily need more innings from Hembree. But without Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel on the roster, they will need him in more high-leverage situations.
“I feel confident with what we’re going to do. We have some big arms here,” Hembree said. “The guys who are here, we’ve experienced a lot.”
Manager Alex Cora feels Hembree’s 95-mile-per-hour fastball can be an effective weapon. It’s not overpowering but gets by hitters when he works up in the strike zone.
“Last year he was a big part of what we were doing,” Cora said. “In the first of the season he did an outstanding job coming into the middle of innings and striking people out.
“In this age, there are certain guys we know they’re going to pitch to contact and that’s cool. Get a double play or induce weak contact. But we prefer swings and misses. [Hembree] is in that category.”
Opposing hitters had a significantly higher OPS against Hembree after the All-Star break last season (.798) than they did before (.703). The Sox attributed that to Hembree needing to be in better condition.
He addressed that over the offseason and reported to camp much leaner. Hembree and his wife, Maci, also had their first child on Feb. 18. Hembree missed some of camp when Novi Kae was born but has since caught up.
Hembree pitched the seventh inning against the Orioles Wednesday night and allowed a home run by Dwight Smith.
In Fort Myers, Eduardo Rodriguez threw four innings in a Triple A game against Orioles minor leaguers then continued throwing in the bullpen to build his pitch count to 90.
The lefthander had an unimpressive line of four runs on six hits — including a wind-aided homer — with two walks and seven strikeouts.
But he was less concerned with the back-field results than with his health after a full, healthy spring training in which he made five starts.
“I never was available to be ready. In 2015, when I got to the big leagues, I was sent down to the minor leagues. In ’16, ’17, ’18, I was hurt,” Rodriguez said. “To be available for the first time, to have the opportunity to go from Day One in spring training all the way to here . . . to get to this point, last start in Fort Myers, nothing feels better than that.”
Rodriguez pitched in the minor league game after his start on Tuesday was rained out.
The Pawtucket Red Sox will “celebrate” the engagement of Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez on April 12 by giving free admission to any fan wearing a Jason Varitek or Bronson Arroyo jersey.
Fans named Jennifer also will be admitted free.
Varitek and Rodriguez fought during a game in 2004. Later that season, in Game 6 of the ALCS, Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s glove while the pitcher was covering first base.
Rodriguez was charged with interference and called out.
The Price plan
David Price, who missed his start on Sunday because of illness, is scheduled for what Cora termed an “aggressive bullpen” on Thursday and will be slotted into the rotation after that. “We’re running out of time and we have to build up,” Cora said. “We’ll make decisions when we have to make them.” Price will be on the Opening Day roster barring some setback . . . Steve Pearce, who strained his left calf on Sunday, took batting practice on Wednesday and is scheduled to get at-bats in minor league games on Thursday before returning to a major league game on Friday or Saturday . . . Mookie Betts was 0 for 6 in minor league games on Wednesday and Blake Swihart hit a long home run in the Triple A game.