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What You Need to Know about Opening Day

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The odyssey is almost ready to start for the Red Sox in 2018, and everyone expects the season to be a thrill ride.

Alex Cora has brought a new energy in as a rookie manager. J.D. Martinez looks forward to giving the Red Sox the thumper in the lineup they sorely lacked a year ago.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The odyssey is almost ready to start for the Red Sox in 2018, and everyone expects the season to be a thrill ride.

Alex Cora has brought a new energy in as a rookie manager. J.D. Martinez looks forward to giving the Red Sox the thumper in the lineup they sorely lacked a year ago.

A pitching staff with three elite pitchers still in their prime (Chris Sale, David Price and Craig Kimbrel) is ready to roll. The talented young core (Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr.) is ready to take another step forward.

It all starts on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET under the roof of Tropicana Field against the Rays. Here is a look at what you need to know.

Projected Opening Day lineup
Mookie Betts RF
Andrew Benintendi LF
Hanley Ramirez 1B
J.D. Martinez DH
Xander Bogaerts SS
Rafael Devers 3B
Eduardo Nunez 2B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C

Chris Sale SP

Key roles
• One of the first decisions Cora made when he took over as manager was to install Betts into the leadoff spot on a full-time basis. After watching George Springer up close last season when he was the bench coach with the Astros, Cora thinks Betts can provide the Red Sox with a similar type of instant impact at leadoff.

• The Red Sox have the luxury of having complete confidence in Kimbrel, who is as dominant as any closer in the game. One thing that bears watching is Cora's usage of the fireballing righty. Cora has said that there will be times he uses Kimbrel in the eighth inning instead of the ninth if the meat of the other team's order is up at that point.

• With such a talented and deep roster of position players, Cora will have a lot of juggling on his hands. There is no straight platoon. Instead, there are six starting-caliber players (Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, Martinez, Benintendi, Bradley Jr. and Betts) vying for five spots in the lineup. There will be numerous occasions that Martinez will play the outfield, giving Moreland a chance to play first and Ramirez to get off his legs and DH.

Injury updates
• Lefty Drew Pomeranz, coming off a breakout season, could miss the first week or two of the regular season as he builds his arm strength back up after missing time due to a mild flexor strain in his left elbow.

• Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who could be on the verge of a breakout season, will also start the season on the disabled list. The good news is that Rodriguez is not injured. He just needed some more time to ramp back up in Spring Training due to the right knee surgery he had after the 2017 season.

• At some point, the Red Sox will get Tyler Thornburg on the active roster, and that will be a big boost for an already-strong bullpen. Thornburg didn't pitch at all last season after undergoing surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder. There is no timetable for Thornburg, but he has progressed well throughout Spring Training, so his return might not be that far off.

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

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