PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wednesday that left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and right-hander Steven Wright are both "in play" as candidates to start the fourth game of the regular season against the Rays rather than going on the disabled list.Thomas Pomeranz, however, is all but certain
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wednesday that left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and right-hander Steven Wright are both "in play" as candidates to start the fourth game of the regular season against the Rays rather than going on the disabled list.
Thomas Pomeranz, however, is all but certain to start on the DL due to the time he missed with a mild flexor strain in his left elbow. Pomeranz will pitch two innings in a Minor League game on Friday, marking his first action in a game since sustaining his injury on March 2.
Rodriguez and Wright are both coming back from knee surgeries, which is why they are candidates to pitch the fourth game against the Rays, but not either of the two games in the second series of the season at Miami, which will be played under National League rules. Cora doesn't want either pitcher to have to hit or run the bases.
Lefty Christopher Johnson, who has had a strong camp and is out of options, will likely pitch the opener of the two-game series in Miami on April 2.
If Rodriguez and Wright both can't be ready for the finale of the series against the Rays, right-hander Hector Velazquez will likely get that start.
Rodriguez has impressed the club with how quickly he has worked his way back from a procedure that was supposed to knock him out for the first two weeks of the regular season.
"If it happens, it's going to be in Tampa Bay, but it's less than 50 percent," Cora said. "But schedule-wise, we set it up that if he pushes himself and he looks great, then we're in a position that we can use him."
Despite the less-than-50-percent proclamation, the Red Sox are giving Rodriguez every chance to be ready. He is making his next Spring Training start on three days of rest rather than the standard four to accelerate his timetable, but he will be limited to three innings.
Wright will pitch in a Minor League game on Thursday, and how he bounces back from that will go a long way toward deciding if he can start against the Rays.
"It's 50-50," Cora said of Wright. "With him, tomorrow is a big day again for him. "He's going out there four innings after that. With everybody, it's day by day. They react so differently. They have good days and bad days. For him, the day that he pitches is not the one that it matters. It's the day after. We'll see how he reacts after that."
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The Red Sox have a tentative plan in place for closer Craig Kimbrel, who missed three weeks of camp when he was in Boston with his daughter, who is recovering from heart surgery.
Kimbrel will throw a batting-practice session on Friday, and he is likely to make his Grapefruit League debut on Sunday. He will throw one more spring game next Tuesday against the Cubs. Are the two outings enough for Kimbrel to be ready for Opening Day?
"Oh yeah, he's fine right now," said Cora.
Too much Bird watching
Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird attended Tuesday's Grapefruit League game from the suite level of JetBlue Park, and Cora was getting a kick out of the subject. He didn't meet Bird, because he was busy managing the game.
"No, but I saw a lot of people up there," said Cora. "We'll talk about it in a few days. Trainers were up there. Clubbies. Must be nice. That's cool. But you know what, we have Kangaroo Court. There's a box over there. We'll take care of that one. I wasn't the one who noticed it. The people above me noticed it. I was meeting with the president of baseball operations after the game and he made a point yesterday. We'll see what happens Saturday.
"I like basketball. Somebody mentioned it to me before the game that he was here, and I was like, 'Man, that's awesome.' I thought it was the whole nine yards, come down, say hi to everybody. Then everybody is up there and we're playing. What's going on? But that's great. That's the cool thing about this city. There are so many legends sports-wise, it's amazing."
Better pitch mix could lead to more Kelly K's
When you consider Joe Kelly is the hardest thrower on the Red Sox, it is somewhat surprising he doesn't get more strikeouts as a reliever.
Last season, Kelly frequently topped 100 mph with his fastball while getting 52 strikeouts in 58 innings.
"He's been working a lot on other stuff," said Cora. "Offspeed stuff and the placement of his fastball through Spring Training. I love the fact that he had a game plan and he's sticking with it."
Cora thinks using more of a pitch mix will help Kelly become a greater strikeout threat.
Velazquez gets the nod for Thursday's 1:05 p.m. ET road game against the Orioles, live on MLB.TV. Setup men Kelly, Carson Smith and Robby Scott will get action out of the bullpen. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. will be in the starting lineup.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.