LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Soaking in the Winter Meetings experience for the first time in his baseball life, new Red Sox manager Alex Cora enthusiastically shared his insights during a 30-minute session with the media on Tuesday. Among some of the most compelling topics were Craig Kimbrel's usage, Mookie
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Soaking in the Winter Meetings experience for the first time in his baseball life, new Red Sox manager Alex Cora enthusiastically shared his insights during a 30-minute session with the media on Tuesday. Among some of the most compelling topics were Craig Kimbrel's usage, Mookie Betts going back to leadoff, Dustin Pedroia's health and Hanley Ramirez bouncing back.
Perhaps most interesting is that Cora seems committed to using All-Star Kimbrel in a more unconventional way going forward. Though Kimbrel's primary job will still be to save games in the ninth inning, there will be times the power righty will tackle the meat of the other team's order an inning earlier.
"We're going to recognize situations in games that it's not that they're more important than the other one, but there's going to be certain situations [he is used in the eighth], and we'll talk to him. I think that's the most important thing," said Cora. "We'll show him."
• Winter Meetings interview with Alex Cora
Kimbrel did pitch six times in the eighth inning last season, covering 2 2/3 innings, but he only did so once after June.
"I think there's going to be certain situations that you're going to see him probably earlier than what people expect," Cora said. "So if he has a song [for] the ninth inning, we'll get it in the queue up there, and they will play the music in the eighth."
Creating pressure at the top
Betts bounced back and forth between leadoff and the middle of the order under former manager John Farrell the last two seasons. Cora likes the idea of Betts serving as the type of weapon at the top of the order that George Springer was for the Astros. In that alignment, Andrew Benintendi, perhaps Boston's best all-around hitter, will hit second.
"One thing I'm a big believer in, and I've been consistent with it, is that putting pressure from pitch 1 is very important at this level," said Cora. "And I saw it firsthand this year [with Springer]."
Betts played 81 games and had 390 plate appearances in the leadoff spot in '17, so it's not as if it will be a big adjustment for him.
"It's the pressure," said Cora. "With one swing he can hit one off the wall or over the wall, it's 1-0 us or a man on second and no outs. I think that's important. He can do a lot of stuff also running the bases, and I'm looking forward to it.
"Andrew's a good hitter, too. I would like him to see where we're at in Spring Training, to hit behind Mookie, and see how that couple goes about it. If we can create instant offense and then we go after that, we'll see what happens the rest of the offseason, how healthy we are, and then we decide that. But I think those two guys on the top of the lineup, they can do some damage."
Cora has been in frequent contact with Ramirez this offseason, and he expects the right-handed hitter to have a big bounceback season. As the bench coach for the Astros during the Division Series, Cora saw firsthand how dangerous Ramirez can be.
"He's a guy, when healthy and with motivation, he can be dangerous," Cora said. "I've been in contact with him. We have been talking about it, and I'm looking forward to seeing his at-bats. There was something about him in October in that playoff series, and that line drive he hit up the middle off [Chris] Devenski [in Game 3], that was the Hanley of old. He was in the middle part of the field, not trying to do too much. ... It was a big spot that probably you were thinking he's trying to hit a grand slam, and he stayed up the middle on a 3-1 count and hit a bullet up the middle."
Pedroia is expected to miss the first several weeks of the season following surgery on his left knee, but Cora is confident his former teammate will make a strong comeback and be a far more effective player than late last season, when he was clearly compromised by his health.
"He's doing great," said Cora. "I think at this stage in his rehab that he's feeling really good about himself. Obviously, as you know, his goal is to be in the lineup as soon as possible."
Cora saw in the Division Series that the Astros were able to exploit the weakness in Pedroia's knee.
"The first thing I told Dustin, we need a healthy Dustin Pedroia," he said. "We know what he can do, and we need him healthy. He's working toward it."
Cora is keeping it open-ended how he will divvy up the playing time at second base until Pedroia returns. Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt and Deven Marrero are among the players who could see time at the position.
Cora will be hands-on
During his time as a player, Cora was known for his strong fundamentals and attention to detail. Though his coaches will provide plenty of instruction during Spring Training and beyond, Cora won't be shy about sharing techniques with his players.
"I know there's a lot of stuff that goes on [as a manager]," Cora said. "That's something [Astros manager] A.J. [Hinch] will tell me, like as a manager, it's a little bit different, but I will make sure my schedule fits. I like to be around. I like to hit grounders. I'm not a good BP thrower, so somebody will have to pick me up. But just being around and talking to them and telling how I see certain plays or certain situations, I think that's going to help them out."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.