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Notes: Mata on the rise; Darwinzon SP or RP?

@IanMBrowne
February 27, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The last homegrown starting pitcher the Red Sox had who won as many as 10 games in a season was lefty Felix Doubront, who did it in 2012 and ’13.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The last homegrown starting pitcher the Red Sox had who won as many as 10 games in a season was lefty Felix Doubront, who did it in 2012 and ’13.

The current top candidate to break that drought is righty Bryan Mata, the club’s No. 4 overall prospect, who fired two scoreless innings (two hits, two strikeouts) against the Phillies in his first Grapefruit League start Thursday.

Box score: Phillies 12, Red Sox 5

“I always enjoy when you talk about somebody that you’re thinking in the future has a chance to be a guy,” said Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke. “He’s got good stuff, his command is I guess what he’s worked on, in trying to get that narrowed down to where he can be more consistent in his pitching. But his stuff is good enough to be in the big leagues for sure.”

The 20-year-old from Venezuela is the Red Sox’s top-ranked pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

“It’s cool for him just to have worked and progressed to where he gets to do this,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said of Mata’s Thursday start. “I don’t think you’re too focused on the results, although it was nice to see him do a lot of the things that he did. It’s just cool to see a kid like that who progressed through the system become a legitimate prospect and then get to have this experience.”

Playing with a lineup that included established players like Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., J.D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland and batterymate Christian Vázquez was a thrill for Mata.

“I felt great. I had a lot of confidence going into it, just knowing that I was going to be making this start,” Mata said. “Mixing my pitches especially, just taking the lead from Vázquez, who’s a great catcher, and [is] someone I leaned on. It felt really great to be able to mix them up.”

Mata put up dazzling numbers for Class A Advanced Salem last season (1.75 ERA in 10 starts) but displayed some inconsistency after moving to Double-A Portland (5.03 ERA in 11 starts).

Though the Red Sox have some competition for the final spot in the rotation -- in fact, two spots will be open while Chris Sale spends the first couple of weeks of the season on the injured list -- Mata will likely need more seasoning at Portland and perhaps Triple-A Pawtucket before making his big league debut.

But he’d like to accelerate the timetable as much as possible.

“My goal would obviously be to play in the Major Leagues this year, but whatever the team thinks is best for me, that’s really what I’ll go with,” Mata said.

Mata mixes a mid to upper 90s fastball with a slider. The key will be developing a third pitch he can go to. He thinks an improved changeup can round out his repertoire.

Darwinzon dilemma
Given that aforementioned competition, the Red Sox could be tempted to move Darwinzon Hernandez and his electric left arm back into a starting role.

However, the club appears more likely to keep him in the bullpen, at least at this stage of his career. Hernandez made his first appearance this spring on Thursday, allowing two hits and a run.

“I think Rags [Roenicke] has talked about this,” Bloom said. “The upside to do that is certainly there. I think we do have to remember that he’s at a stage of his development where he moved pretty quickly last year and had a good amount of success. But there’s also the need to make sure we’re not putting too much on him too soon, whether it’s from a workload perspective or just from an ability to handle the role.”

While Sale is out, would the Red Sox consider using two openers?

“Yeah, I don’t think we’ve taken anything off the table at this point,” said Bloom. “It will all be about what we feel gives us the best chance to win on those days and throughout that opening stretch.”

Lucroy doubles in debut
Jonathan Lucroy officially entered the competition to be the backup catcher when he appeared in Thursday’s game for the first time this spring.

The right-handed hitter didn’t waste any time doing something productive, as he walloped a pinch-hit double off the replica Green Monster in the bottom of the seventh.

Lucroy, who signed a Minor League deal with an invite to camp last week, is competing with Kevin Plawecki to be Vázquez’s backup.

Roenicke expects Lucroy to see his first action behind the plate on either Saturday or Sunday.

Arauz makes case
There is also stiff competition in camp for the final two bench spots. Rule 5 Draft pick Jonathan Arauz gave the Sox something to think about when he mashed a three-run homer on Thursday.

Arauz, a switch hitter, can play second, third and short. He is competing with two players who have similar defensive versatility in Marco Hernandez and Tzu-Wei Lin. There’s a chance two of those three players could make the team.

Up next
Star third baseman Rafael Devers will see his first Grapefruit League action on Friday on the road against the Twins on Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Devers arrived a few days late to camp so he could witness the birth of his daughter. Lefty Kyle Hart, who made 15 starts for Triple-A Pawtucket last season, will be on the mound.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.