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What’s really wrong with the Tyler Thornburg situation 03.29.17 at 12:13 am ET
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Tyler Thornburg (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Tyler Thornburg (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Pirates, both John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski were digging in on their defense of the Red Sox’ shoulder program.

Both the manager and the president of baseball operations were questioned about the perceived cause for Tyler Thornburg having to shut things down once again due to a shoulder impingement. Each tried to make it very clear that they were not going to pin this on the approach taken by the team to strengthen the reliever’s right shoulder.

“There’s a lot been written targeting our shoulder program here. I would discount that completely,” Farrell told reporters. “He came into camp, he was throwing the ball extremely well, makes two appearances.They were two lengthy innings in which the inflammation flared up to the point of shutting him down. But in the early work in spring training, he was throwing the ball outstanding. So to suggest that his situation or his symptoms now are the result of our shoulder program, that’s false.”

True and false.

Technically, the shoulder program itself shouldn’t be vilified here.

It’s a process that has been almost universally praised by those pitchers who have participated. For example, Kyle Kendrick credits it for the impetus for his current success. And Joe Kelly passed on his own testimony, explaining the difference he experienced from his time with the Cardinals.

“It made a big difference,” Kelly said. “In St. Louis, if you hurt you go get treatment. Coming here I saw every single pitcher doing it. It didn’t take me long to buy into it.”

So, where did it go wrong for Thornburg?

The blame actually shouldn’t go on the program itself, but most likely the implementation of it.

Talking to WEEI.com on March 11, Thornburg explained that he was being shut down after just two spring training outings so that he could full acclimate himself to the new shoulder program without having to simultaneously pitch.

“Once we started working those muscles in the back that in depth and that much they really started to tire. I was doing a shoulder program on a certain day and all of a sudden I would pitch in the game and they would already be fatigued,” he said. “It was one of those things where we decided to shut it down and let them relax as well as strengthen it at the same time. It was really hard to do it all at the same time. It’s a lot more than I was used to, for sure. I’d say the amount of exercise-wise, probably three times the amount than I was doing.

“I was kind of doing the same 10 or so exercises and rotating them [in Milwaukee]. It was not only the pick up in the amount of exercises, but the type of exercises that were so different. I think that the reason the shoulder responded that way.”

OK. But here’s the problem: Thornburg admits he didn’t start to fully understand how the whole thing worked until just before spring training started. That, it would seem, wouldn’t be optimal for a pitcher ready to focus on ramping up his throwing rather than getting used to a significantly intense shoulder program.

“This one, yes,” said Thornburg when asked if he started the program only upon arriving at spring training. “When I went up there for the [Foxwoods] FanFest [on January 20-22] they sent me a list of the exercises we do here so I could familiarize myself with it. I kind of looked at them and thought this was all the exercises we do, not that we do all of this today, in one day. Because in Milwaukee we had shoulder excesses and we picked five and rotated them. I’m thinking these are all the ones we do, picking five or six. Not that this is the shoulder program and this is one day’s worth.

“The first day I did it I was thinking it was a lot of stuff, but didn’t think too much about it. I never had shoulder issues at all. And my shoulder felt stable after the first time. But then with the live Bps and the outings, it just started to fatigue more.”

Considering Thornburg was acquired on Dec. 6, it would seem like a big part of this problem was not using the time leading up to throwing a baseball in spring training to indoctrinate the pitcher into the aforementioned program. Instead, as we’ve discovered, all of it was probably too much, too soon.

When Thornburg first drew back due to the shoulder issue, Kelly remembered when he was traded to the Red Sox in midseason in 2014. While pitching those final two months, he dabbled with the shoulder program, but didn’t fully commit.

And when he did dive into the program, the following spring training, the then-starter ran into a similar problem as Thornburg faces, having to start the season on the disabled list with a shoulder/biceps issue after not adjusting to his new regimen.

“It was hard because it’s the first time you’re actually throwing a baseball every day and it’s the first time you’re doing the program. You combined those two things together,” Kelly remembered. “Now, I feel stronger with my mechanics, and I feel stronger with my shoulder and biceps. But I went through similar thing with my shoulder.”

It might work out in the end, but something certainly didn’t go right in the beginning.

Why Andrew Benintendi losing one pound actually means something 03.28.17 at 11:10 am ET
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Andrew Benintendi (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Andrew Benintendi (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — First you saw the video of Andrew Benintendi spending the offseason lifting chains. Then came the image of his newly-crafted arms while playing on a baseball field.

The 22-year-old outfielder had made it a point to gain muscle, and he did, heading into camp at 186 pounds. News flash: With just a few days before the regular season, Benintendi has lost a pound.

It’s good news for the Red Sox and their left fielder.

Benintendi has managed to keep on the weight throughout the rigors of spring training, something he struggled with a year ago while residing close to 170 pounds. The reshaped body has worked just as planned, with the lefty hitter totaling three home runs, six doubles and an OPS of .980 in 61 Grapefruit League at-bats.

“Overall, I feel better. I feel stronger,” Benintendi said. “I think this time last year my body was kind of worn out, being in the heat all the time and playing every day. Right now I feel good. I feel fresh and I’m ready to roll.

“I put in a lot of work this offseason and it’s translated well so far. Hopefully it holds up for the last few days.”

What will be interesting to see when the regular season rolls around is not only if Benintendi’s production will carry over, but how he grades out at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field with the new StatCast system.

“I feel like my exit speed is there, hitting it harder,” said Benintendi, whose hardest hit ball was 104.1 mph, coming on a double off Dylan Bundy on Sept. 19. “I just feel like I can drive the ball more. The ball is going farther and I’m hitting it harder. I also feel more powerful running. I don’t know if I’m faster, but maybe quicker.”

Eight years after Christian Vazquez thought he would be released, he’s headed to his first Opening Day roster 03.27.17 at 10:44 am ET
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Christian Vazquez (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Christian Vazquez (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A big part of the news emanating from Red Sox camp Monday was Blake Swihart being sent to the minors. It wasn’t a shock, considering he had options, and Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon did not.

But it did allow Vazquez to reflect on how far he has come in making his first Opening Day roster.

Two years ago, the catcher was saddled with the news that he would need Tommy John surgery. Then, last spring training, that same surgically-repaired elbow was still not allowing for the kind of impression needed to make the big league club.

But when looking back at the path he took to get to this point, Vazquez chooses to identify a time in 2009 — one year after he was taken in the ninth round — that could have been his defining moment, but wasn’t.

Playing for short-season, Single-A Lowell, Vazquez found himself as the Spinners’ third string catcher, with his 5-foot-9 frame tilting the scales at 215 pounds.

“I went like one month where I didn’t play in Lowell,” he remembered. “That year I was thinking they were going to release me. I wasn’t playing and hit like .123.”

The Red Sox sent Vazquez to their academy in the Dominican Republic to “get skinny and strong,” according to Vazquez. It paid off. After making Single-A Greenville in 2010, the catcher returned to become the Drive’s everyday backstop in 2011, hitting 18 home runs while throwing out better than 40 percent of his attempted basestealers.

“That year I started thinking I could do this,” he said. “I can play this game and be good. That’s where I figured it out. It changed my mind.”

It worked out.

Vazquez has gotten his body fat down to 12 percent (from 19 percent when he signed), and has shown the kind of arm that had first put him on the precipice of the big leagues two spring trainings ago.

“I’ve learned to take care of my body, my arm. That’s my money here. Taking care of myself, that’s my goal, every day,” Vazquez said. “I feel strong. I feel great. I’m excited.”

Why Joe Kelly is excited to be pitching after beer sales end 03.27.17 at 10:10 am ET
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Joe Kelly (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Joe Kelly (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s easy to assume that if you’re pitching in the late innings of a Major League Baseball game, and it’s close, there has been some importance placed on your abilities.

Heading into the regular season, Joe Kelly figures to be living that life, having been identified as the Red Sox’ eighth inning reliever, at least until Tyler Thornburg gets up to speed.

But Kelly, a closer in college, offered a fairly interesting take on why those high-leverage innings might feel a little different. And it has little to do with protecting a lead.

“When you go into the end of a ballgame there’s just a little bit different feeling. Fans are into the game more. They start to narrow down their focus,” he told WEEI.com Monday morning. “Those middle innings, or at the beginning of the game, they’re seeing their friends, talking or eating. But after the eighth inning there are no more beer sales so I’m pretty sure they’re watching the game. They get louder and more intense, which feeds onto the player. They get more focus because the extracurricular stuff isn’t going on.

“It’s something I’m excited for and I think I can do it.”

Kelly is almost through his first spring training as a relief pitcher, having pitched in eight Grapefruit League games. After a strong start, he has run into some difficulties in two of his last three outings, walking three Twins Sunday.

But overall, Kelly explained that he has few concerns heading into the real games next week.

“It’s been smoother than I thought it would be,” said Kelly, who power-ranked his pitches by identifying his fastball being in the best shape, followed by the slider, curveball and then changeup.

“I thought with the multiple outings, not getting as much off time as a starter, I thought I would get a little more sore than I have been. Knock on wood, I’m feeling good and haven’t been getting sore like I thought I would coming into camp.”

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It’s starting to look like Hanley Ramirez will be full-time designated hitter to start season 03.26.17 at 10:33 am ET
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Mitch Moreland figures to get the majority of innings at first base early in the season with Hanley Ramirez still nursing a bad right shoulder. (WEEI.com photo)

Mitch Moreland figures to get the majority of innings at first base early in the season with Hanley Ramirez still nursing a bad right shoulder. (WEEI.com photo)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — He took a few ground balls. Made a couple of flips to first. But other than that, Hanley Ramirez wasn’t an all-in participant in the Red Sox’ infield drills Sunday morning at JetBlue Park.

Along with his continued limited participation with the first baseman’s glove, it was also noticeable how much time Ramirez spent flexing and feeling his injured right shoulder. At one point trainer Paul Buchheit came over and listened as the infielder/designated hitter pointed to different parts of his affected area.

Saturday, Red Sox manager John Farrell said the plan remained to get Ramirez some action in the field before the end of spring training. And moments later, Ramirez told WEEI.com was optimistic, saying he could play all the remaining games at spring training games.

“We just have get our first baseman ready,” said Ramirez, referring to Mitch Moreland. “I’m ready to go.”

But Farrell’s tone Sunday, and Ramirez’s actions, suggested the plan to have Ramirez play first base against lefty starters might be put on hold to start the regular season.

“When he’s first ready,” Farrell said. “I would hope that would still happen in spring training. His play and availability at first is one of the keys to how our roster can function at its best. But until he’s ready to go out there, I can’t put him on the field.”

Asked what he thought the chances of Ramirez playing in the field at some point in spring training were, Farrell added, “I’m still hopeful but recognizing where we are on the calendar.”

The good news for the Red Sox is that Ramirez can still hit, which he has shown throughout the Grapefruit League season. Heading into Sunday’s game against Twins, who he was hitting cleanup against, the righty slugger was hitting .298 with a .912 OPS to go along with three home runs in 47 at-bats.

After being sent to minors, has anything changed for Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig? 03.26.17 at 9:12 am ET
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Rusney Castillo (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Rusney Castillo (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was hardly a surprise.

Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig were part of a group who was reassigned to the minor leagues Sunday morning, joining outfielder Brian Bogusevic, infielder Matt Dominguez, catcher Jake DePew and pitcher Hector Velazquez. Noe Ramirez, who made the Opening Day roster a year ago, was also optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

So, has anything changed for Castillo and/or Craig? It depends.

In terms of their chances of finding significant time on the Red Sox roster, the duo’s plight remains the same. Craig is in the final year of his five-year, $31 million due, due to make $11 million this season, while Castillo is slated to make $10.5 million this season, with four more years left on a seven-year, $72.5 million deal.

As colleague John Tomase points out, it would cost the Red Sox $56,596 a day to keep Castillo on the 25-man roster. So a two-week stint with the big league club mean allocating nearly $800,000 to the outfielder.

What those numbers mean is that if the Red Sox wanted to carry either one of the two on the big league roster, it would put them over the luxury tax, opening the organization up for financial penalties Dave Dombrowski and Co. wouldn’t seem to view worth incurring.

Perhaps the biggest gain made by both players, however, is that they certainly didn’t hurt themselves when it comes to their perception within both the Red Sox and Major League Baseball.

In his 38 at-bats, Castillo hit .368 with a .911 OPS. Craig wasn’t quite as impressive, finishing at .250 with a .684 OPS, but did show a much more consistent ability to hit the ball hard than at any other time in his Red Sox’ career.

In the end, spring training didn’t change the narrative dramatically, but it might have at least not pushed both players totally off the radar (a fate that could have easily taken place).

Red Sox notebook: Hanley Ramirez still eyeing playing in field; David Price moves forward; Catching competition? 03.25.17 at 12:37 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — While John Farrell spoke to the media Saturday morning, Hanley Ramirez could be seen having a intense discussion with infield instructor Brian Butterfield. A little while later, it was Farrell and Butterfield who were meeting up with Ramirez, with the Sox’ cleanup hitter holding his first baseman’s mitt.

It seems as though Ramirez might actually be on the verge of branching out to play a Grapefruit League game at first base.

“He played light catch the last couple of days,” Farrell said. “Just spoke to him in the training room here this morning. he feels like it’s getting there. Still, the importance of getting on the field will not be understated. Him getting to first base is meaningful. The way our roster is set up, I think playing first base against right-handers is important. That’s our goal going forward.”

Ramirez has been prevented from playing in the field due to a slower-than-anticipated throwing program that has been dictated by the health of his right shoulder. If healthy, the plan continues to be to play him at first against right-handed pitching, with Chris Young sliding into the designated hitters spot.

For some insurance, utility infielder Josh Rutledge got his first taste of first base this spring, starting at the position against the Rays in Port Charlotte Saturday.

— David Price is a long ways away from returning to the Red Sox’ rotation. But Saturday did represent a small step forward for the lefty pitcher.

“There was a serious of strength tests done this morning in the training room and felt like he was improved to the point of initiating more throwing,” Farrell said.

“I put a ball on the tee and try and hit the baseball off the tee,” Price said. “If it hits the tee first, it doesn’t count. You’ve got to knock the ball off. Stuff like that. I’m always doing stuff to kind of stay in competition. That’s probably why I play so many video games. It’s just being able to compete, staying in that competitive nature and stuff like that. I’ve definitely found stuff to try and entertain myself while I’ve been so bored.”

It has now been three weeks since Price returned from Indianapolis with his diagnosis.

“I mean, it’s tough. Some guys can handle the DL and be all right, and some guys, the DL’s not meant for them,” he said. “I feel like I’m one of those guys. It’s tough, but I’m getting through it.”

— Farrell isn’t backing off the premise that there is a competition at the catching position, thanks in large part to Blake Swihart’s success with the bat (.314 batting average).

But it still would be hard to imagine anybody but Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez making up the Red Sox’ catching tandem considering both are out of options, while Swihart can be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers.

As for matching up with certain starters, the combination of Vazquez and Eduardo Rodriguez seems to be the only true set battery.

“I’m not going to run from the fact that in a short number of starts, Vazqui and Eddie Rodriguez has proven to be an efficient pairing,” Farrell said. “I like the way Swi has caught all camp. There’s been improvement there. He’s probably been clearer in a way the more offensive of the three. And yet, you look at Sandy and the way he runs a game and the way he’s paired up with a number of guys. I’m not here to say who the two catchers are, but there’s some things inside of it that to me are pretty evident.”

— Tyler Thornburg came out of his first bit of game action in good shape, with the plan to pitch again Monday. As for jumping back into high leverage situations, Farrell said that will come in time.

“I think in fairness to him, and in fairness to our team, with the intent that he builds back to the role that we envisioned when we traded for him,” Farrell noted.

Xander Bogaerts intent on showing he belongs at top of Red Sox’ batting order 03.24.17 at 12:10 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Xander Bogaerts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The six-hole.

It’s clearly not where Xander Bogaerts wants to be, but is most likely going to end up.

“The only thing is that I’m used to hitting second or third in the past few years, in the first inning. Now, hitting sixth is something I have to adjust to,” Bogaerts said. “First and third, you’re hitting in the first, regardless. Sixth, you’re depending on getting guys getting on. It’s just an adjustment. You have to take your time and see how it all plays out. If you want to be at the top you have to go out and prove it.

“At the end of the season hopefully I’m back up there again. If not, as long as I’m in the lineup that’s what matters.”

Judging by Thursday’s batting order, which Red Sox manager John Farrell identified as possibly representative of what you’ll see Opening Day, Bogaerts will have to get his head wrapped around the unfamiliar spot in the lineup when going up against right-handed starters.

Dustin Pedroia. Andrew Benintendi. Mookie Betts. Hanley Ramirez. Mitch Moreland. And then Bogaerts.

While Bogaerts did end up in the sixth spot during the Red Sox’ three-game postseason run, the majority of his time over the past two seasons have been hitting second or third, where he manned in all but two of the regular season contests.

The company line for players being moved in the lineup always involves doing whatever is best for the team. And while Bogaerts takes that tact, he also is honest about his preferences when it comes to the batting order. It was a reality that was also brought to light when telling Farrell the cleanup spot wasn’t a preferred landing spot last season.

“I always view myself as a guy who is at the top of the lineup,” Bogaerts said. “It’s a little bit tough, but the manager makes out the lineup for what he thinks his best.

“The last two years have been crazy years for me. I think I’ve proven a lot. If it’s to happen, it’s to happen. I just have to go out and prove it, like I have the last few years. You want to hit. Sixth might be waiting for a little bit. That’s the only difference, that I have to sit in the second inning as opposed to the first.”

Bogaerts said while he hasn’t talked to Farrell about the move yet, he most likely will before camp is over. One of the things he might discover when discussing the dynamic with the manager is how much Farrell actually values the sixth spot.

This was Farrell in 2013 when talking about how he views a lineup: “Personally, I think one of the most important spots in the lineup is the six-hole. A higher average, more of a line-drive type, good consistent professional at-bats is one of the thing I look for because I think that spot comes up a lot with men on base. They might be pitching around that three-, four-, five-hole and you have that guy laying there looking to put up a quality at-bat and I think there are a lot of RBI situations to be had.”

So, what is Bogaerts’ preference at the end of the day?

“Second or third for me, was good. It’s what I was used to the past few years,” he said. “It’s an adjustment I’ll have to make. I could finish leadoff and I’ll have 10 stolen bases a month. Who knows?”

Your Red Sox Opening Day catcher? Sandy Leon 03.23.17 at 10:26 am ET
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Sandy Leon (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Sandy Leon (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — There was plenty to read into when digesting the plans for the Red Sox Thursday.

First, the fact that Rick Porcello was pitching to Sandy Leon in a minor-league game on the back field at JetBlue Park was no coincidence. For one, John Farrell didn’t want Porcello to be pitching against the team, the Pirates, he would be facing Opening Day.

Secondly, the presence of Leon as Porcello’s battery-mate all but sealed the deal when it came to identifying who will start at catcher on Opening Day.

“I think I’ve said many times over that if we’re opening tomorrow Sandy Leon is going to be the catcher, and that hasn’t changed,” said Farrell, adding, “The last time out [Blake] Swihart had Porcello and I don’t want to get that combination of Rick and Sandy too far removed.”

Leon and Christian Vazquez are both out of options and almost certainly will be the two catchers starting on the 25-man roster, with Swihart likely heading to Triple-A Pawtucket. Offensively, Swihart has out-shined the others, totaling a .357 Grapefruit League batting average, with an .848 OPS.

Last season, Porcello limited opponents to a .223 batting average and .558 OPS with Leon catching, compared to .242/.694 with Vazquez behind the plate.

The starting lineup Farrell rolled out in the game against the Pirates also might have some meaning. Here is the Red Sox’ batting order against right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchinson: 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, Blake Swihart C.

“Eight days until we break, or whereabouts, maybe a first look at our lineup,” Farrell said. “I’m not saying this is Opening Day, but this is potential for one on Opening Day. And just to get everybody back in the rhythm. We’ve kind of fragmented because of the WBC and because of travel and bouncing around the state. To get our camp finally together, I think we’re all looking forward to these last remaining game.”

While Farrell had been toying with the idea of moving Bogaerts up in the lineup, pushing Benintendi to No. 3 and Betts to cleanup, that would seem to be a potential option.

“It’s still a thought,” the manager noted. “This was the dilemma with David hitting three or four, a year ago or previous years. You’re looking for your most complete hitter, or your most productive hitter, to come up in that first inning. And that case right now, that would be Mookie. There’s some balance to all that. The fact is that this is a pretty good problem to have with the difference alignments and who might not come in the first, and worst-case scenario. More than anything, you’re looking at five or six guys capable of being in those top three slots.”

Why playing third base in the World Baseball Classic might have made Xander Bogaerts a better shortstop 03.23.17 at 9:25 am ET
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Xander Bogaerts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Xander Bogaerts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the last four weeks, Xander Bogaerts’ communication with his Red Sox teammates and coaches consisted of sporadic text messages to Brock Holt, assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez and third base coach Brian Butterfield.

Other than that, the Red Sox and Bogaerts’ relationship was limited to relying to the clubhouse televisions to watch the shortstop play third base halfway around the world for Netherlands during their impressive World Baseball Classic run.

“I think it was a little bit better, because the first time I was so nervous,” said Bogaerts, referencing his previous WBC experience, in 2013.

Now, after going 5-for-22 (.227), he’s back. And, according to Bogaerts, he has never been better prepared to start a season that is just 10 days away.

“I feel pretty good, to be honest,” he said. “I feel I’m a bit more ahead of where I normally am. Probably because those games, we had to go all out and be on point with them. I felt really good out there. Just going back to shortstop now is much better.”

Bogaerts did work at shortstop while with the Netherlands, taking grounders at the position before manning third for Hensley Meulens team.

Ironically, in those days he didn’t play his primary position, Bogaerts might have actually found a launching point to become a better shortstop. Lessons learned by being around the likes of Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorious, largely considered two of the best defensive shortstops in the game, evidently left quite an impression.

“I was practicing with Simmons and Didi. They are gifted guys and they can learn you a lot,” Bogaerts said. “For me, I didn’t play short, but in my mind I definitely did.”

Bogaerts is in the Red Sox’ lineup Thursday against the Pirates, hitting sixth.

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