BOSTON -- The Opening Day 2020 sign was painted in the grass just beyond the backstop at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. The Red Sox aren’t quite there yet, but they mostly looked ready for Friday night in their first matchup against an opposing team since March 11.
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Can the vaunted offense carry a pitching staff that has a lot of question marks? They looked ready for it in this 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays, riding a three-run homer by Mitch Moreland (413 feet) against Blue Jays phenom and No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson in the first and a two-run rocket from J.D. Martinez into the visiting bullpen in the fifth.
Speaking of Martinez, manager Ron Roenicke called a pregame audible, inserting his slugger into the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind the left-handed Andrew Benintendi. This came a day after the manager said he was leaning toward a lefty-lefty combo of Benintendi and Rafael Devers up top.
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“We may do it in the future,” said Roenicke. “I wanted to see what [Martinez] thought about it. I guess they tried it a little bit when he was in Detroit and he didn’t like it a whole lot. He said, ‘Fine let’s do it, let’s see what it looks like.’ He swung the bat great.”
Why the change of heart?
“And the reason being simply because we have Benintendi followed with Devers and we know that gives the opponent the opportunity to bring in a left-hander against them, and this breaks it up and makes it tough now,” Roenicke said.
“If you want to bring in a lefty to face Benny you have to get through J.D. before you get to Devers. It makes sense, it’s just if everybody is comfortable with it, because I know comfort has a lot to do with how these guys hit and [it] changes their confidence. It’s a good look. If you put that lineup up like that and an opposing team looks at it, it’s hard to pitch to.”
Interestingly, Martinez didn’t hit anywhere but third or fourth in his first two seasons with the Red Sox.
Ultimately, however, the Red Sox don’t have many question marks on offense, no matter how Roenicke aligns the starting nine.
The pitching staff, now that is a different story. There are questions there.
Such as this one: Can Ryan Weber be the No. 3 starter until Eduardo Rodriguez returns from the injured list?
The offspeed specialist looked ready for the part, at least until tiring in his final inning. Weber allowed two runs over the first five frames. But Rowdy Tellez, who hits like Babe Ruth when he faces the Red Sox, roped a two-run homer in the sixth. Overall, Weber scattered six hits and four runs, walking one and striking out six.
Forget about being a No. 3 starter. The 29-year-old Weber has never even made a Major League roster before. But that’s about to change.
“It means a lot to me,” Weber said. “This is going to be my first Opening Day roster and to do it as a starting pitcher, I can say it’s a dream come true, and especially to be here with the Boston Red Sox doing it at Fenway Park. I can say it’s what I dreamed of as a kid and I’m really excited for this season, and I’m going to go out there and compete my butt off for the entirety of the season.”
The Red Sox were quietly optimistic about Weber before Spring Training even started, and Roenicke is thrilled that the pitcher has validated that.
“You fight hard, you’re up and down in the big leagues, you’re changing teams, and then you come to a place where you get an opportunity,” Roenicke said. “Without a doubt, this guy earned that opportunity. We liked what he did last year for us and he came into camp lights-out in the first Spring Training and came here and threw the ball well.
“I like him. I think he’s got good stuff, I think he commands the ball really good. It’s not the 95’s, but his fastball is sneaky and when he puts it where he wants it with mixing up all his pitches, I think he can be a good Major League starter.”
Aside from Weber’s solid outing, the most comforting thing that happened at Fenway on Tuesday was Brandon Workman looking like the lockdown closer he was in the second half of last season. After struggling throughout intrasquad scrimmages, Workman looked ready to handle his responsibility when he fired a 1-2-3 eighth at the Jays.
Perhaps Dennis Eckersley put it best on NESN.
“That’s the yak man I know right there,” Eck told his audience.
In Eck speak, the yakker is the curveball -- and Workman has a good one.
The game only went in Toronto’s favor after the Red Sox removed their starting lineup in the late innings.
The blemish on the night were the leaks in the bullpen. Primary setup man Matt Barnes gave up a solo shot to Derek Fisher in the seventh. And in the ninth, entrusted with a 6-5 lead, Ryan Brasier -- who needs to bounce back from a down year in 2019 -- struggled mightily. He gave up three runs, including a two-run shot off the bat of Fisher.
Overall though, it was a satisfying game night at Fenway -- the first in a long time.
“Yes I thought it was good, especially that first inning offensively to come out like we did. Really good,” Roenicke said. “I thought the energy was good. It was certainly better than the intrasquad games. The intrasquad games, they just seemed like you play nine innings and it takes forever. And this seemed like a regular ballgame for me.”
The only thing irregular was, of course, the lack of any fans. But Roenicke doesn’t expect that to be an issue for his players.
“Guys know how important it is,” said Roenicke. “And I think the adrenaline they get just knowing they’re still playing a game that’s important and against opponents will make the difference.”
The Red Sox will have one more dress rehearsal against Toronto on Wednesday night at 7:30 ET, before the fun starts on Friday.
“Oh yeah, we’re all ready to go,” said Weber. “Everyone is ready, everyone has done what they needed to do to get ready for Opening Day in the 60-game season. I think we’re all pretty much sharp, the offense is obviously going to be there and the pitching staff is going to be really good. We’re all sharp, we all stayed in shape and we are very excited to get playing.”
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.