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Notes: Sale falls ill; opener or fifth starter?

Once veteran overcomes bout with pneumonia, his left elbow is in good shape
@IanMBrowne
February 12, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Red Sox officially opened Spring Training on Wednesday, one of their most impactful players was missing. Ace Chris Sale, who has already been dealing with the flu for the last week and a half, is now dealing with a mild case of pneumonia. The

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Red Sox officially opened Spring Training on Wednesday, one of their most impactful players was missing.

Ace Chris Sale, who has already been dealing with the flu for the last week and a half, is now dealing with a mild case of pneumonia.

The good news is that Sale’s left elbow is in strong shape. The lanky lefty missed the last six weeks of last season with elbow inflammation that wound up requiring a platelet-rich plasma injection.

“He is actually feeling really good [arm-wise],” said Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke. “He’s had this for about a week and a half. He threw yesterday. He’s going to throw again today, play catch. It sounds probably worse than what it is, but he said last night he had a great night’s sleep. So he was really happy about it. He’s going to come in here Friday and be re-evaluated to see where we’re at.”

The update on Sale was a good jumping-off point to ask Roenicke how he will handle his starting pitchers in general this spring.

The last two years, Alex Cora took a highly conservative approach with his rotation during camp in terms of innings and starts. It worked in 2018, when Boston won the World Series. But last year, the team got off to an 11-17 start, and a struggling rotation was the main reason why. The Red Sox proceeded to go just 84-78 and miss the playoffs.

“Well, we did get off to a slow start last year, and we talked about it. We’re going to make sure -- at least we’re going to try to make sure -- that they get their six starts in in spring,” Roenicke said. “Last year, a couple of guys had five. I think [Eduardo Rodriguez] got his six. I think it’s important that we try to get them to six starts and make sure they start off better than we started off last year.”

Fifth starter ... or opener?

When David Price was dealt along with Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, it suddenly meant the Red Sox have just four projected starting pitchers instead of five.

So who will be the fifth starter? Boston doesn't appear close to making that decision, and it’s a battle that could be waged throughout camp.

Candidates could include Brian Johnson, Kyle Hart, Mike Shawaryn, Ryan Weber, Tanner Houck and Hector Velázquez.

At this point, it sounds like the Sox will keep highly regarded lefty Darwinzon Hernandez in the bullpen, where he was dominant at times in the second half of last season. But that is subject to change.

“We had discussions on him yesterday,” Roenicke said. “There’s a lot of people who think he’s still capable, and down the road maybe he ends up a starter. His stuff is fantastic, he’s very strong physically, so he doesn’t wear down. So he’s a guy. It’s definitely a possibility in the future.”

Roenicke also didn’t rule out using an opener in the fifth spot.

“I think the opener is a possibility when you don’t have your five guys that you really like,” Roenicke said. “Obviously, [chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s] very familiar with it, and talking to him about it, it wasn’t like, ‘Well, this is what we want to do.’

“It was, ‘What’s the personnel we have? What’s the best way to get these guys to perform at a level where we hope they can be?' And if it ends up being a couple days where they have openers, so he’s OK if we go there, but he’s also, if we can fill it with a fifth guy, he’s OK with that. So I think we just kind of see where we end up here at the end of camp, and if we have one day of an opener, we have one day.”

Adjusting on the fly

Less than 24 hours after being named interim manager, the transition felt fast for Roenicke on the first day of camp.

“I mean, I just found out yesterday morning, so it’s still kind of getting used to everything,” Roenicke said. “I walked in this morning and went to my usual locker [in the coach’s room], and my clothes weren’t there and they’re over in the manager’s office, so I walk over there. So everything is still a little different for me.”

Roenicke felt similarly during the in-between of some of the morning drills.

“It feels different because when I usually walk around, I like to field ground balls and join in where they need me. And today I was like, ‘No, I think I better be over here in the bullpen and watching guys throw, I think that’s probably more important.’ So that part, I forget,” said Roenicke, who managed the Brewers from 2011-15. “I’m walking around, doing my thing and then I forget, like, 'Oh, I probably shouldn’t be here.' So that part was a little different.”

No word on Pedroia

With position players due in by the end of the weekend and the first full-squad workout scheduled for Monday, Roenicke wasn’t sure when injured second baseman Dustin Pedroia will arrive. Pedroia had been hopeful of launching another comeback this season, but he is in limbo again after having a significant setback with his problematic left knee.

“Our medical group hasn’t talked to him lately to see where he’s at,” Roenicke said. “I’ll probably try to call him today or tomorrow and find out where we are and what he’s thinking and try to go from there.”

Workman likely to close

The Red Sox started last season without a set closer, and they paid the price, as the bullpen struggled mightily throughout the first half. After the All-Star break, Brandon Workman took care of the ninth inning and emerged as one of the top relievers in the game. Does that mean Workman will start the season as the closer?

“I think so,” Roenicke said. “I think what he did last year deserves that shot to be the closer. I think it's always more ideal if you have roles for those guys.”

Wong settles in

Catching prospect Connor Wong, one of three players acquired in the Dodgers blockbuster, found out he was traded in the middle of his own party at his new home in Houston.

“I had some friends over for a housewarming party, and we were just having a good time,” Wong said. “I checked my phone and had a few missed calls from the farm director over there and a text saying he’s trying to get a hold of me. I called him back, and I found out I was traded.”

As for any player who gets traded for the first time, it came as a bit of a stunner.

“It has definitely been different, you know? The last three years, I’ve been with the Dodgers, and you kind of get into a routine,” Wong said. “You kind of know what’s expected and what you need to do. The last week has definitely been different, but I think it’s going to be good for me as a person to be able to grow and adapt and kind of move on from it.”

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