ST. PETERSBURG -- The Red Sox got a boost of good news before the American League Division Series even started on Thursday, when they placed ailing slugger J.D. Martinez on the roster for the best-of-five series against the Rays.
Martinez sprained his left ankle in the final game of the regular season on Sunday, when he tripped over second base while running out to play right field at Nationals Park.
He was left off the roster for the AL Wild Card Game, in which the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 6-2, on Tuesday.
However, Martinez was not in the Game 1 starting lineup against Rays lefty Shane McClanahan at Tropicana Field, but manager Alex Cora said he will be available to pinch-hit.
It’s possible Martinez will be back in the lineup for Friday’s Game 2, which is at 7 p.m. ET.
“There’s a good chance that [Friday], that might be the day. I feel better [about that] today than yesterday,” Cora said.
Clearly, Martinez has made a lot of progress within the past 24 hours.
“He’s feeling a lot better. He’s moving better,” Cora said. “I’m not saying he’s going to be flying around the bases, but we’ll go station by station, and hopefully, he can hit one in the air, hit one out of the ballpark and he can jog around the bases. It’s getting better. The medical staff, the last three days, even on the plane, they’ve done an amazing job. He’s in a much better spot than Monday.”
In 148 games this season, the 34-year-old Martinez slashed .286/.349/.518 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs.
With Martinez out of the lineup, Cora went with his best defensive alignment -- the one he used in the AL Wild Card Game.
Barnes a tough omission
Red Sox righty Matt Barnes, an All-Star closer earlier this season and a crucial member of the championship-winning bullpen of 2018, was left off the roster for the Division Series.
Barnes' struggles since August have been well documented, which left the Red Sox with the tough decision of keeping their longest-tenured reliever on the sidelines for the best-of-five ALDS. Barnes was on the roster for the AL Wild Card Game against the Yankees, but he didn’t pitch.
“Extremely difficult,” Cora said. “This guy has been here for a while. He’s been here, done that. But the uniqueness of their roster, we have to make some adjustments. Obviously, it’s a hard conversation with the player, but at the end, we’re trying to have the roster that we do believe is going to help us to advance.
“Obviously, he is disappointed. He wanted to be part of this. But at the same time, he’ll be a good teammate and he’ll be there for us. You never know what can happen today, tomorrow or the next day as far as our roster with everything that can happen. He’ll be ready. But it wasn’t an easy decision.”
The Red Sox decided to add a third lefty to the bullpen in Martín Pérez, which led to the decision to keep Barnes off. The Rays do a lot of mixing and matching, and they have five lefty bats in Brandon Lowe, Kevin Kiermaier, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows and Joey Wendle.
Pivetta starting in ‘pen
Righty Nick Pivetta, who made 30 starts for the Red Sox this season, will begin this ALDS in the bullpen. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get a start at some point. In fact, Game 4 remains a possibility.
“It all depends where we’re at and where we see things,” Cora said. “Today, he’ll be in the bullpen, but you never know what can happen in the upcoming days.”
José Iglesias, who was a key performer for the Red Sox down the stretch but can’t play in this series because he wasn’t in the organization as of Sept. 1, could have one visible role.
Cora said Iglesias could be the guy who pushes the home run cart in the dugout after a Red Sox player goes deep. The laundry cart ritual actually started at Tropicana Field late in the 2020 season when Boston was out of contention and the team was looking for a way to create some fun. Cora has enjoyed seeing the light-hearted gimmick -- which was started by catcher Kevin Plawecki and coach Jason Varitek -- continue.
“For them to have fun with that, it’s great,” Cora said.
With Iglesias out of the mix, Christian Arroyo will get most of the playing time at second base. Playing the Rays in the postseason is exciting for the Brooksville, Fla., native, who grew up about an hour from Tropicana Field.
“I asked him how many tickets he is leaving today, or how much it is going to cost him for us because we are playing Tampa Bay. He said a lot,” Cora said. “So hopefully he can perform, you know, in front of family and friends here in Tropicana Field, and help us win ballgames.”