3 takeaways from Red Sox camp

Cora discusses shaky 'pen performance, futures for Darwinzon, Franchy

April 6th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the days of Spring Training down to a precious few, Red Sox manager Alex Cora shed some light on several topics on Sunday morning.

Here are three takeaways.

Bullpen issues being sorted out
The lack of velocity from righty Matt Barnes, who is hoping to win back the closer’s job, is one obvious red flag. Cora revealed that a mechanical flaw has been spotted that might help Barnes get back to where he needs to be. The veteran righty’s fastball has mainly been 92-93 mph. When Barnes is right, his heater purrs in at 96-97.

“I think it’s something about his leg kick,” Cora said. “Last year, he was a lot tighter. Now, he's loose. If you want to use a reference, it’s like a figure skater. When you’re open, it slows you down. When you’re closed, you’re actually faster, quicker. So hopefully, that's what gets him going and kind of engaged in his delivery and he doesn't have to create [velocity]. Right now in his delivery, he's just mechanically off, and then he tries to create velocity, and it's not there.”

It isn’t just Barnes. Most of the bullpen has looked out of sync during camp. Getting it right is the top priority for Cora and his coaching staff leading up to Friday’s Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

“Just talked to Barnes,” said Cora. “We found something mechanically that, hopefully, this will get him going. With [Ryan] Brasier, velocity is going up compared to 10 days ago. Yesterday he threw in the back fields. He hit 94 a few times. With [Jake] Diekman, we feel like the velocity of the slider actually is not where it should be. So everybody's working on their mechanics.”

The biggest bright spot in the bullpen has been the righty . The team’s No. 25 prospect according to MLB Pipeline came through the Minor League system as a starter but has demonstrated more velocity as a reliever. Could Crawford become this year’s Garrett Whitlock? Entering Spring Training last year, nobody could have imagined Whitlock would emerge into the team’s best reliever.

“You like the fact that Crawford is throwing 97,” said Cora. “He understands that he has a shot, and he has to go out, kind of like Whit last year. He has to impress us. So far, he has done it.

“But with the other guys, we feel like Brasier is ticking up. He’s done a good job. With Diek, it’s just the slider. Hopefully with Barnesy, it’s just mechanics. It’s not great right now. It doesn't look great. But I do believe they're going to be in a good spot coming into next week."

Plan for Darwinzon
Though lefty reliever ’s stuff is powerful, he hasn’t been able to command it consistently enough in the early stages of his Major League career. One of the biggest reasons Hernandez was optioned to Triple-A Worcester to start the season is so that the Red Sox can develop a structured plan that wouldn’t be possible if he broke camp with the club.

The way Cora looks at it, some steps in Hernandez’s development path got skipped because the team needed him to patch up its shoddy bullpen during the American League playoff race in 2019.

“We know he is one of our best guys stuff-wise,” Cora said. “But like I said earlier in camp, I think because of needs, we pushed him to be this guy in ’19. And in ’20, he didn’t pitch that much.”

Hernandez will start on Opening Day for Triple-A Worcester on Tuesday, but the Red Sox are still eyeing him as a reliever. Between his outings for Worcester, he will work closely with pitching coach Paul Abbott.

“He will go two or three innings. The goal for him is to work in between starts, or in between outings, and he hasn’t been able to do that in years,” said Cora. “We told him, ‘Yeah, you’re a big leaguer, we know that.’ But to be the big leaguer we envision, we need to find consistency, and that’s what he is missing right now. We can’t go with the up and down. He dominates in Texas and he struggles for a few weeks. We don’t want that. When he’s ready, he’ll be ready, and we know he will contribute. He’s going to be a big part of this."

Don’t forget Franchy
At this time last year,  was projected as a starting outfielder against righties. But the left-handed hitter had a massive early season slump, and he was sent to Triple-A in May and not heard from much for the rest of the season. After the season, he was taken off the 40-man roster and outrighted to the Minors.

But Cordero has looked good in Spring Training, drilling 11 hits in 22 at-bats, including four doubles. Though it still might not be enough for him to crack the Opening Day roster, Cora sees improvements in a player who has always been known for his many tools.

Cordero reported to camp late last Spring Training after testing positive for COVID-19. That missed time was hard for him to overcome.

“In his situation, I think it wasn’t fair for him. He was on the roster and wasn’t able to get here [on time],” said Cora. “I understand. I think he missed a big part of Spring Training. Him being here early [this year], you can see the results now. We really like where he’s at offensively.

“But he missed the first part of camp [last year]. Instead of being out there with the boys and working on his craft, he was at home. I think that wasn’t good for him, in a sense, for his progression.”