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John Farrell has got his work cut out for him figuring out this Red Sox bullpen

04.03.17 at 7:40 pm ET
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Craig Kimbrel (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Craig Kimbrel (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox have a good team. Their starting pitchers are certainly good enough, as is their lineup.

There is just that one element that offers an uneasy feeling heading into Opening Day, and hasn’t gone anywhere as Game 2 approaches. That would be the bullpen.

With the last two eighth-inning acquisitions, Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, each starting the year on the disabled list, and last season’s answer, Koji Uehara, now pitching for the Cubs, the path to Craig Kimbrel has never been murkier. It was a reality that Red Sox manager John Farrell admitted before his team’s 5-3 win over the Pirates Monday, and remains the same.

“Without a returning lock-down eighth inning guy, we’re about settling into some roles as quick as possible,” Farrell said Monday morning. “There’s going to be a little bit more matching up right now before we bridge to Kimbrel in the ninth. You take some of the momentum that certain guys have coming out of spring training with how they are throwing the ball — [Heath] Hembree and [Matt] Barnes from the right-handed side have probably been the most consistent. Robby Scott and Fernando [Abad] from the left side have probably had more momentum coming out of spring training.

“We’ve got to settle into the roles as quick as possible, but that is what we’re looking at to bridge to Kimbrel right now in a lead situation.”

And that’s exactly what happened after Rick Porcello left with two runners on, one out, and the Red Sox holding a four-run lead in the seventh inning.

First came Barnes, who had been particularly effective when coming in with runners on last season. This time around he wasn’t sharp, ultimately getting out of the inning, but only after allowing two inherited runners to score.

“I felt good today. It’s funny, but you take the first outing or two, and it takes you the one, two, three outings to get reacclimated to everything,” Barnes said. “It’s a little different pitching up here in front of these fans in front of big-leaguers for an entire game in a game that matters to the standings as opposed to when you’re pitching down in spring training, it’s a completely different setting. A lot of times later in the games, you’re not facing big-league guys, so it takes, from what I’ve seen, an outing or two to get reacclimated to the setting, to the scene and to everything, and then we’ll be ready to roll.”

In the eighth, Scott was brought on to face lefty Gregory Polanco and needed just one pitch to induce a ground out.

“I got up the inning before and they told me Polanco would be the guy that I had,” the lefty explained. “Barnesy got out of it with Polanco on-deck and they called back and said I would be going back to begin the eighth.”

Hembree was called on to face righties David Freese and Francisco Cervelli, both of whom the right-hander retired to end the eighth. That paved the way for Kimbrel in the ninth. The Red Sox closer did nothing to soothe the nerves of those worrying about the relievers, putting two runners on before getting Starling Marte to pop up to first baseman Mitch Moreland to end the game.

They got through it, but it was a reminder that this, for the time being, is not going to be easy for Farrell.

Up until about a week ago, it appeared as though the manager was going to be able to rely on Joe Kelly to slide into Thornburg’s role. But the righty sputtered through the end of spring training, experiencing control issues, seemingly pushing him behind Barnes and Hembree for that last righty to pitch before Kimbrel.

“We have three lefties, which is huge for us. We have a bunch of righties with all similar stuff. You just have to be ready at any point,” Kelly said. “I feel good. I feel ready to go. It’s just depending on the game situation. It’s just one game.

“I was trying to get all my pitches ready [in spring training]. It wasn’t like I was working on one particular thing. I’m ready to go. I feel great.”

We still haven’t seen Ben Taylor, Robbie Ross Jr. (who also struggled in spring training), Abad or Kelly. So the tryouts for meaningful spots will continue throughout the week. And ultimately Thornburg and Smith will likely return, with Thornburg perhaps reappearing by May, with Smith slated for a month after that.

But until the whole gang gets together, this is going to be a challenge. Both for the seven or eight relievers, and their manager.

“Just trying to get outs,” Ross Jr. said. “We have to do whatever we have to do to get outs. The roles aren’t really determined. We just have to do what we need to do.”

“A lot of guys down there have done a bunch of different roles,” Barnes added. “While there’s not necessarily clarity on who’s got the seventh and who’s got the eighth, everybody is staying on their toes, staying ready, and we’re going from there.”

After winning American League Cy Young in 2016, Rick Porcello picks up right where he left off

04.03.17 at 6:45 pm ET
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It was a solid first start of the year for Rick Porcello (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

It was a solid first start of the year for Rick Porcello (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

After winning the American League Cy Young in 2016, it will to be hard to duplicate the performance again this season, but Rick Porcello got off to a good start in Monday’s 5-3 win over the Pirates on Opening Day at Fenway Park.

Porcello was dominant at home last year, going 13-1 with a 2.97 ERA, and he picked up where he left off on Monday.

The right-hander went 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits, while walking one and striking out five to pick up his first win of the year. The outing could have gone even better, as he took a shutout into the seventh inning, but began to labor.

He allowed the first two men to reach before getting a ground out, but couldn’t get out of the inning as he allowed a RBI single to Josh Harrison, which ended his afternoon at 96 pitches. Matt Barnes came on in relief, but allowed both inherited runners to score.

Manager John Farrell could tell Porcello was laboring even in the sixth, but it was in the seventh that it really started to show.

“When we extended the inning in the fifth, it started to take its toll after a long inning,” he said. “You could see the stuff maybe get a little tight going out for the sixth inning. He got through it fine. Any time you’re starting to elevate pitches and his cutter was up-and-in to [Fransisco] Cervelli, those are pitches for fatigue maybe starts to set in.”

Self-admittedly, Porcello didn’t have his best stuff, but was still able to make it past five innings for the 42nd straight start. This is the longest active streak in the American League and second-longest by a Red Sox pitcher since 1913.

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Drew Pomeranz has ‘very encouraging’ day Monday, so what’s next for him?

04.03.17 at 6:08 pm ET
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Drew Pomeranz seems likely to start Sunday in Detroit. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

Drew Pomeranz seems likely to start Sunday in Detroit. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

While the Red Sox were opening their season at Fenway Park, an important start took place at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers with Drew Pomeranz starting in a minor league game.

The left-hander has started the year on the 10-day disabled list (retroactive to March 30) with a left forearm flexor strain, but apparently looked good on Monday.

Following the Red Sox’ 5-3 win over the Pirates, manager John Farrell said Pomeranz went six innings and threw around 88-90 pitches.

“There was an uptick in overall stuff, so it was a very encouraging day for him,” Farrell said. “We have yet to discuss what the next step is. For what he set out to do work wise, he was able to accomplish that.”

While not official yet, given the positive outing Monday, it appears likely Pomeranz will be activated off the disabled list to start Sunday (April 9) in Detroit. This was the plan all along and the reason the team carried an extra relief pitcher on the Opening Day roster instead of five starters.

For more Red Sox news, visit weei.com/redsox.

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How are Red Sox going to win without David Ortiz? Their Opening Day win over Pirates offered a hint

04.03.17 at 5:10 pm ET
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Andrew Benintendi (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Andrew Benintendi (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

You want a blueprint of how the Red Sox plan on winning without David Ortiz? I will refer you to their 5-3 win over the Pirates Monday afternoon at Fenway Park. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

Better than average defense. Lock-down starting pitching. A balanced lineup. The utilization of small-ball. Some resurgence from Pablo Sandoval. And the emergence of their next big bat, Andrew Benintendi.

There you go.

We will start with Benintendi considering he owned the biggest hit of the entire Opening Day game. That came in the form of a three-run home run into the Pirates’ bullpen off a 98 mph fastball from Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole. (Click here to see a video of the home run.)

While there was some raised eyebrows directed at Red Sox manager John Farrell when he decided to bump Benintendi up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order despite having just 44 major league plate appearances coming into the season. While it did allow to break up the right-handed bats at the top of the order, and lefties in the bottom half, pushing Xander Bogaerts down to No. 6 was hardly a no-brainer.

But Benintendi’s ability to turn on the kind of pitch Cole delivered on a 2-2 count with two outs in the Red Sox’ five-run fifth inning only fed the optimism baseball’s top prospect continued to build throughout a Grapefruit League that saw him hit .344 with a 1.062 OPS.

How the Red Sox got that point, where Benintendi could go deep for the Red Sox’ first homer of 2017, was also a huge part of the story.

With Cole battling Red Sox starter Rick Porcello in a scoreless game with two outs in the fifth, Jackie Bradley Jr. finally got to the Pirates’ starter by narrowly hitting a home run over the right field wall on a 97 mph heater. The sight of Bradley’s triple was an important one, considering any early-season uncertainty over which streak the streaky center fielder would start out on.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

 

Bradley’s triple was the hardest ball he’s ever hit, as he launched the line-drive at 110 mph according to StatCast.

The hit was the second piece of excellence coming from the outfielder, who made a spectacular play chasing down Francisco Cervelli’s fourth-inning blast into the center field triangle.

Then came Sandoval.

The slightly more streamlined third baseman picked up where he left off in spring training, beating out a slow grounder to Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Nelson. It was a practice Sandoval had executed multiple times in Southwest Florida, but this time it just happened to score the Red Sox’ first run of the season. It was also a happening that probably wouldn’t have been possible with the frame he supported a year ago. (To see Sandoval beating out the grounder, click here.)

The momentum didn’t stop there, thanks to Sandy Leon’s willingness to take what the Pirates gave him when shifting on him. Farrell said his club would be taking advantage of shifts more via the bunt, and that’s exactly what the switch-hitting catcher did. The next thing you knew Dustin Pedroia was claiming an RBI single, paving the way Benintendi.

And, finally, I give you Porcello.

It might not have felt like the dominating performance you might get from a pitcher making his first start since winning the Cy Young, but it was want any team would have wanted from their Opening Day starter. Six and a third innings. Three runs. Six hits. Five strikeouts. One walk.

It wasn’t all perfect. Matt Barnes came on for Porcello and didn’t ease any previous concerns the Red Sox might have had coming into the day, allowing two inherited runs to score via walk, hit and sacrifice fly. But it was good enough. And considering the unknown that is life without Ortiz, that will have to do for now.

Photos: Red Sox Opening Day pregame ceremonies

04.03.17 at 3:21 pm ET
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The Red Sox opened the season Monday afternoon at Fenway Park. Pregame ceremonies featured Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, James White, Dion Lewis and the Patriots’ five Lombardi Trophies. Check out some photos here.

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski (WEEI)

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski (WEEI)

David Ortiz isn’t at Fenway Park for Opening Day, but is on Twitter

04.03.17 at 2:21 pm ET
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The Opening Day celebration at Fenway Park went on without the presence of David Ortiz.

Despite some surmising the former designated hitter might be part of the Game 1 festivities, the Red Sox instead rolled out a Patriots-themed pregame ceremony. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, James White, Dion Lewis and Robert Kraft walked in from the left field wall with their Lombardi Trophies, leading up to Brady throwing out the first pitch.

But Ortiz did make his presence felt in the moments leading up to Rick Porcello’s initial offering, taking to Twitter.

(To read/watch Ortiz’s tweet, click here.)

Red Sox notes: What will bullpen roles be leading to closer Craig Kimbrel?

04.03.17 at 12:20 pm ET
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Joe Kelly could be a potential eighth inning guy to start the season. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Joe Kelly could be a potential eighth inning guy to start the season. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

With top relievers Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith starting the year on the disabled list, how the Red Sox get to closer Craig Kimbrel remains to be seen.

Besides Kimbrel, the Red Sox have right-handers Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly and Ben Taylor and then left-handers Robbie Scott, Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross Jr. in the bullpen.

Speaking prior to the opener on Monday, manager John Farrell said the team doesn’t have defined roles as of yet, but the hope is to find them as quickly as possible.

“Without a returning lock-down eighth inning guy, we’re about settling into some roles as quick as possible,” Farrell said. “There’s going to be a little bit more matching up right now before we bridge to Kimbrel in the ninth. You take some of the momentum that certain guys have coming out of spring training with how they are throwing the ball — Hembree and Barnes from the right-handed side have probably been the most consistent. Robbie Scott and Fernando [Abad] from the left side have probably had more momentum coming out of spring training.

“We’ve got to settle into the roles as quick as possible, but that is what we’re looking at to bridge to Kimbrel right now in a lead situation.”

Farrell said all relievers are capable of coming out of the bullpen in the middle of an inning.

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

— When looking at the Red Sox’ lineup, one of the things that stands out most is Xander Bogaerts batting sixth. The shortstop is coming of a season where he hit .294 with 21 home runs and 89 RBIs.

Farrell said Bogaerts hitting sixth is a case of the depth of the lineup, as well as keeping a left-right balance in the batting order. He also added it doesn’t mean he will be hitting sixth the whole year.

“First of all, you have a two-time Silver Slugger award winner that is dropping down in the order,” he said. “That is more a product of the depth of the group that we have. We have four or five guys that are capable of hitting in the two or three-hole on this team. To keep some left-right balance throughout and potentially not allow some obvious matchups in opposing bullpens, Bogey going to the sixth hole is the choice made. I am sure we’re going to have many different looks over the course of the year with the lineup, but this is where we start.”

Read More: Craig Kimbrel, Fernando Abad, heath hembree, Joe Kelly

Do Red Sox know what they’re getting into without David Ortiz?

04.03.17 at 9:40 am ET
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David Ortiz (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Ortiz (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

What is it going to be like without David Ortiz?

Each and every time the question is posed to a member of the Red Sox organization, the answer is virtually the same. And Sunday was no different.

“You can’t replace David,” said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “That’s obvious. We saw what he did for his entire career here. It’s going to take everybody to kind of step up and different roles and overcome his absence and play together. We plan on doing that.”

“For the last decade he’s been a bedrock here,” added manager John Farrell. “He’s been a cornerstone player and his importance continues to grow. As players have moved on, Pedey is still the one guy who’s still in his prime and has had a fantastic spring training. Coming off the scope of the offseason, we had a very detailed plan for his progression. He’s responded very good to it. Even a guy in his stature here in Boston, the number of years he’s been here, he’s still growing daily as the leader of our team and is more and more comfortable in that role.”

Now, with the Opening Day lineup officially announced and Ortiz not in it, the Red Sox’ new lot in life has become a reality.

But Ortiz was Ortiz, and when you have a player of that importance replacing him with projections is a dangerous — albeit, unavoidable — thing.

This is a presence that led the entire major leagues in OPS last season, the only person to eclipse 1.000 (1.021). For context, this would be the equivalent of the Nationals playing without the 2015 leader in the stat, Bryce Harper, last season.

Those first three months of 2016, it was Ortiz who once again anchored this Red Sox lineup. Do we think that anybody is going to hit 19 home runs by July 1, or turn in 51 extra-base hits? Mookie Betts was in the midst of doing his thing on the way to just missing out on American League MVP, but during that span, when the Sox were officially entrenching themselves as a playoff contender, even he wasn’t close to the team’s designated hitter.

From the seventh inning on this is a guy who hit .331 with a 1.044. Only one Red Sox hitter managed a batting average of .284 or better in such situations. In short, when things were stuck in the mud when it came to offensive production, Ortiz was almost always the fail-safe.

None of this is a news flash.

Neither is the fact that when the rubber hit the road in the clubhouse, this was the biggest voice in there. As much as Pedroia, a veteran like Chris Young, or the maturing foundation made up of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, etc. might bring, that dynamic — for the time being — is gone.

Why would all of that matter? Because over the course of a Major League Baseball season, the ups and downs can push a team down the wrong road without the hard-stop that Ortiz offered both on, and off, the field. Heading into 2017, that should be recognized as an uncomfortable reality.

The Red Sox could very well be fired out of cannon this month, even without Ortiz. Mitch Moreland could turn a career corner in his new home park, and the option of using Chris Young against left-handers as a designated hitter might actually offer well above-average production.

Heck, the Tigers finished with baseball’s third-best team OPS in 2015 after the major league leader in the category, Victor Martinez, dropped to a sub.700 guy.

But after gliding through the semi-meaningless Grapefruit League days, when Ortiz usually exited with less than a handful of hits, it’s time to start taking stock of what life will look like without the DH. That starts Monday.

How much will the Red Sox miss David Ortiz?

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Red Sox lineup: Mitch Moreland fights off flu to make Opening Day lineup

04.03.17 at 9:16 am ET
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Mitch Moreland (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Mitch Moreland (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox have their Opening Day lineup.

The only question coming into the team’s regular season-opening game against Pittsburgh Monday morning was whether or not Mitch Moreland would be well enough to participate. The first baseman had missed the Red Sox’ trip to Washington due to the flu.

But with Pirates righty Gerrit Cole on the mound for the visitors, Moreland will get the start and hit fifth.

With Rick Porcello on the mound for the Red Sox, here is John Farrell’s first batting order of the season:

Dustin Pedroia 2B
Andrew Benintendi LF
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez DH
Mitch Moreland 1B
Xander Bogaerts SS
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Sandy Leon C

For all the Red Sox coverage throughout Opening Day, go to the team page by click here.

David Ortiz may not immediately agree to post-career role with Red Sox

04.03.17 at 9:12 am ET
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David Ortiz appears to be comfortably retired as the 2017 season begins. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Ortiz appears to be happily retired as the 2017 season begins. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Ortiz will be at Fenway Park this season when the Red Sox retire his No. 34 on June 23. But besides that, Big Papi may not be around too often during his first year of retirement.

In an interview Sunday on Comcast SportsNet’s “The Baseball Show,” team president Sam Kennedy said the organization may not work out a post-playing deal with Ortiz until late in 2017.

“We’d like to have a more meaningful role and helping him with his marketing partnerships, have him have a meaningful role with our young players. And so we’re talking through it,” Kennedy said. “There’s no rush to get it done, because at least according to him, he is not coming back. So we’re talking and I would expect we’ll get something done this year, but he’s really enjoying taking time off. He’s been traveling a lot. My understanding he’s going to be gone for sort of the first month of the half of April.”

Earlier this year, in an appearance on Boston Herald Radio, Kennedy floated the possibility of Ortiz joining the NESN team. Despite those overtures, the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn reported last month Ortiz is undecided about his future in broadcasting. Finn says Fox Sports has also expressed interest in the slugger’s services. Ortiz was a part of the network’s 2014 World Series coverage.

On WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” Monday, Kennedy reiterated his desire to see Ortiz in the booth.

“I think [Ortiz] has mild interest in broadcasting,” he said. “I personally would love to see him on NESN. I think our viewers would love to see him on television. We’ll see if he wants to do that.”

Author’s note: this post has been updated to include Kennedy’s comments on K&C.

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