BOSTON -- When Alex Cora was preparing the Astros for the American League Division Series against the Red Sox a year ago in his role as bench coach, he told Houston to dig in at the plate. Boston's pitching staff, Cora told his hitters, didn't like to pitch inside.Now, as
BOSTON -- When Alex Cora was preparing the Astros for the American League Division Series against the Red Sox a year ago in his role as bench coach, he told Houston to dig in at the plate. Boston's pitching staff, Cora told his hitters, didn't like to pitch inside.
Now, as the Red Sox's manager, Cora made it clear to his pitchers leading into this AL Championship Series that they need to establish the inner half of the plate or pay the price.
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Boston righty Joe Kelly was following the scouting report when he drilled Alex Bregman with a 99.9-mph fastball to start the sixth inning during Game 1 on Saturday. The pitch came right after Bregman asked for time just as Kelly was releasing a pitch. Bregman stared at Kelly, and catcher Christian Vazquez played peacemaker.
"We've got to get him off the plate," Cora said. "We have to establish the inside part of the plate. It's not that we're trying to hit him, but we have to let him know that we will pitch there. Last year, going into the playoffs, that's one thing I told that group. I said, '[Boston] doesn't pitch inside.' So they know, and they do their scouting report, and that's something we have to do a better job of.
"If we can at least own one side of the plate, we can expand the other side. They stayed in the zone. They're very good at it."
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The hit batter ended up costing Kelly when Bregman scored the go-ahead run on a broken-bat RBI single by Carlos Correa. After scoring, Bregman looked like he had something to say to Boston's dugout, looking in its direction.
Kelly didn't take exception to Bregman's ire, nor did he regret his pitch selection.
"Surprised? It's playoff baseball," Kelly said. "There's no intent there, especially that guy -- he came in and scored eventually [with] the go-ahead run. With our offense working [Astros starter Justin] Verlander like that, to come back and tie the game, it's the most foolish thing if you do that on purpose.
"But [Bregman] is a competitor. I'm a competitor. I don't think anybody likes getting hit with a baseball. I don't like getting hit with a baseball. So there was no surprise. No intent, other than just you guys saw what happened. There's nothing else besides that."
Cora undecided on Game 3
While Astros manager AJ Hinch confirmed on Saturday that Dallas Keuchel will start Game 3 and Charlie Morton will take the ball for Game 4, Cora wasn't ready to name his order yet for when the series shifts to Houston on Tuesday.
It will be Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi in some order. But Cora was ready and willing to use either pitcher out of the bullpen if needed during Game 2.
"We'll let you guys know after the game," Cora said. "We're all-in tonight."
In the AL Division Series against the Yankees, Eovaldi pitched Game 3 and Porcello worked Game 4. Both of them got wins, combining to allow two runs over 12 innings.
Sale figured out mechanics during Game 1
The Red Sox are confident starter Chris Sale will regain his groove -- and hopefully his velocity -- when he makes his next start in Game 5 (if necessary).
Sale was completely out of sync with his mechanics in the first two innings, but he bounced back nicely to retire the final seven batters he faced.
"[Pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] talked to him in the second inning, told him to get his hands going, and obviously we talked about firing his hips and all that," Cora said. "You saw the difference. Against Marwin [Gonzalez], he threw three sliders and they were very, very good.
"And then in the fourth, you could see him, like, 'Now I can breathe.' He was able to pitch, and he had a great fourth."
Moreland should start in Houston
First baseman Mitch Moreland made an encouraging return to action as a pinch-hitter in Game 1, when he walked with the bases loaded against Justin Verlander. Moreland was again on the bench for Game 2.
But by the time the Red Sox get to Houston, Cora feels Moreland's right hamstring will be healthy enough for him to start.
With the Astros throwing a lefty in Game 3, look for Moreland to make his first start of the series in Wednesday's Game 4.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.