Notes: Richards to 'pen; Plawecki earns time

August 11th, 2021

BOSTON -- For the second time in less than a week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has moved a starting pitcher to the bullpen.

Wednesday’s announcement was the demotion of , who was signed to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason with the hope that he could be the team’s No. 3 or 4 starter. was moved out of the rotation last weekend.

The two moves have paved the way for Red Sox ace Chris Sale to make his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery on Saturday and for right-hander Tanner Houck to remain in the rotation for the rest of the season.

Houck, Boston’s No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is expected to be recalled again from Triple-A Worcester and start Thursday’s finale of the three-game series against the Rays. The 25-year-old has pitched in 10 games for the Red Sox over the last two seasons, posting a 1.69 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.

Down the stretch, the Red Sox will go with a rotation of Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta and Houck.

While Richards had a decent run from April 27 to June 6, posting a 2.98 ERA over eight starts, he struggled mightily both before and after that. In 22 starts overall this season, he is 6-7 with a 5.22 ERA.

The righty was vocal about how difficult it was for him to adjust after MLB announced the enforcement of the rule allowing pitchers only to use rosin to help with grip of the baseball.

Richards tried to reinvent himself by relying less on his slider and more on a new pitch -- a split changeup. But it came with mixed results, and he has pitched less than six innings in his last 11 starts.

Richards last pitched on Sunday in Toronto, and Cora said he was available in relief for Wednesday’s game.

“Obviously just like Martín, [he’s] disappointed,” said Cora. “They see themselves as starters, but at the same time, understanding where we're at and the people that are coming here to contribute, right? It starts with Chris, and everybody knows that Tanner is part of the equation.”

Cora thinks that Richards and Pérez have the potential to strengthen a Red Sox bullpen which has struggled mightily of late.

“The stuff we do believe is going to be a little bit better velocity-wise, and where we're at right now, we can use them as multiple-inning guys in high-leverage situations or in close games that we’re down,” Cora said.

“I do believe [Richards] threw the ball well in Toronto. Stuff-wise, he was really good. The slider, the breaking ball were good. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve got a lot of games to play and there’s stuff that can happen and adjustments we can make throughout these few weeks, but I do believe we can use him in multiple innings and use length to get to the next level of relievers.”

Plawecki earning more time
Christian Vázquez went into the season as Boston’s clear No. 1 catcher, a position he held since the start of 2019. But the line is becoming more blurred of late.

, who has been swinging the bat better than Vázquez recently, got the nod on Wednesday against Rays lefty Josh Fleming. He entered the contest with a slash line of .364/.429/.477 against lefties this season.

“I cannot tell you percentages [of playing-time distribution], but [Plawecki is] catching today,” said Cora. “On a team that offensively has struggled the last month or month and 10 days, we need his at-bats. They’re quality at-bats. It’s not a knock on Christian. It’s actually where we’re at.”

The decision to start Plawecki on Wednesday came several hours before Vázquez was placed on the bereavement list and replaced on the roster by Connor Wong, who was recalled from Triple-A Worcester.

Players must serve a minimum of three games on the bereavement list and no more than seven. That means the earliest Vázquez can return is for Saturday’s game against the Orioles.

Cora’s job: 'Cancel the noise'
There is arguably no tougher city for a baseball team to slump in than Boston, where every misstep in every loss gets magnified.

Cora, who played for the Red Sox for four seasons and is in his third year managing the team, knows that better than anyone.

“I do believe that as a manager, my job is to cancel the noise,” Cora said. “It gets loud. It gets loud when you’re winning. It gets loud when you’re losing. These are things we talk about in Spring Training. We play in a special place, and in a special place where we are not irrelevant.

“People care about this team and they enjoy the highs and they let us know when things are not going great. My job as a manager is to cancel the noise and make sure they understand this is part of the process.”