Cora tabs Duran to lead off: 'If he's healthy, that's my guy'

February 16th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are a lot of evolving situations for the Red Sox this spring that manager Alex Cora and his staff will spend weeks evaluating.

But one decision is all but made. When the Red Sox open their season in Seattle on March 28, will be the first player who steps into the batters’ box.

“For me, when Jarren was the leadoff guy for us [last year], we were probably one of the best offenses in the big leagues,” said Cora. “Obviously, we need him healthy out there every day. If he’s healthy, that’s my guy.”

Considering that Duran was fighting just to win a roster spot a year ago -- and didn’t wind up cracking the Opening Day roster -- his stock has taken a significant upward turn.

“I mean, that's awesome to hear,” Duran said, when it was relayed to him that Cora projected him to lead off. “But I can't be satisfied still. I’ve still got to come out here like I don’t have a job. That's just not how I'm wired or raised, to take anything for granted.”

Though the 27-year-old Duran struggled to find his footing in 2021-22 before coming on last season, work ethic has never been an issue.

“So I'm still going to come out here and work as hard as I can,” Duran said. “Until they tell me, like, ‘Hey, take it back a little bit. You're working a little too hard.’”

Duran got his call back up to the Majors last year shortly after Adam Duvall broke his left wrist on the first road trip of the season.

Swiftly, he made an impact, slashing .295/.346/.482 with 34 doubles, eight homers and 40 RBIs in 102 games and 362 plate appearances.

The downer came on Aug. 20, when Duran suffered a season-ending left toe injury caused by scaling the wall at Yankee Stadium.

He is past that now, and looked comfortable doing agility drills on the backfield following Friday’s team workout.

“Toe is good,” said Duran. “I’m just working on running. They’re easing me back into it. It’s on cleats and running more than I was in the offseason, but it feels fine. No discomfort or anything.”

While Duran’s place in the batting order is all but set, Cora will wait to settle on the defensive alignment in the outfield. That is dependent on if defensively gifted prospect -- ranked No. 76 in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 -- makes the club. If that happens, Rafaela will be in center with Duran in left.

A scenario of Rafaela starting the season in Triple-A would give Duran the chance to get most of his time in center.

“We know [Duran] can play center,” said Cora. “He made some strides last year, but obviously, it all depends where we go. He can play center, he can play left.”

Just the fact Duran is back in the conversation signifies a huge change from a year ago.

“It's nice people recognize me and stuff, but sometimes, I wish I was still hiding under the umbrella and sneak by people. But I'm just a quiet, shy guy,” said Duran. “It’s awesome to have the fan support. I love them and they love me and I hope they enjoy the way I play the game.”