BOSTON — When Alex Cora took his first serious look at the Red Sox defense in spring training, there was one thing that stood out to him. There was lots of work to be done in the field. This was something Cora admitted before Sunday’s game with the Rays.
There were great players in the field for sure in Gold Glover Mookie Betts in right, Jackie Bradley Jr. patrolling center and Christian Vazquez behind the plate. Xander Bogaerts has turned into a very steady and reliable shortstop.
But there are question marks around the diamond, like Rafael Devers at third, Eduardo Nunez at second and Hanley Ramirez’s range at first. But with the help of Zack Scott, VP of Baseball Research and Development, and Pawtucket coach Bruce Crabbe worked hard in Florida to make sure the team’s fielding was improved once it was time to head north.
With Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts patrolling the outfield, balls in the air were really not the issue but ground balls were.
“Halfway through spring training, I was very worried about our defense,” Cora acknowledged. “But they’ve been working. When they were staying back (in Ft. Myers), when we went to Jupiter for a few days and all those long trips, they worked. Ramon Vazquez did an outstanding job, Bruce Frabbe helped us out. Triple-A coaching staff, the Double-A coaching staff they worked (hard) and it looks like they’re taking pride in playing defense. Are we perfect? No. We’re still in the bottom of turning ground balls into outs still.”
As a former major league infielder, Cora more than appreciates the need to field routine ground balls and make solid attempts on the not-so routine. So far, the stat sheet would indicate the Red Sox are doing a masterful job, as the only team without an error this season, heading into Sunday’s game. But by the expanded metrics of ground ball fielding percentage, Cora sees plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re making the routine plays,” Cora added. “I think Zach upstairs is doing an outstanding job with this team, putting our guys in positions where we have to make plays. Sometimes, there’s a ground ball that (should be fielded) goes by, everybody noticed that one but it’s normal. But not too many people notice that one and that’s what we care about, the ones we turn into outs.”
Speaking of the outfield, Betts has been solid to start the season while JBJ has been downright impressive fighting off the intense solar glare on Thursday and Saturday and tracking fly balls routinely.
“He’s special,” Cora added. “I hate comparing guys but that’s elite right there. That’s like a wide receiver back at The U (of Miami) in the 80s. You throw it up and they catch it, like back in the day. You hit it in the air, he catches it and he makes it look easy. I’m very proud of him. He’s a leader back there. You can see him moving guys around. Mookie was a Gold Glover. They always look to him. Jackie’s the one running the show out there.”
Yes, there is still plenty of debate as to the value of having J.D. Martinez in left field (as was proven by his errant throw on an easy inning-ending double play liner to left in the fourth inning Sunday).
But as Cora has emphasized many times already early in the season, the season is a long one, with plenty of adjustments to be made. And Cora is already proving to be a manager willing to make them.