It took about an hour of Spring Training for the Red Sox to feel the difference in team culture having Alex Cora back as manager.
After missing last season due to his role in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, Cora instantly picked up on his previous relationships while forming new ones just as easily.
Behind Cora, the Red Sox, who had a smooth camp mostly devoid of major injuries, will take some swagger with them going into the season, even after finishing 24-36 a year ago.
Cora ran a smooth camp that has his team enthused about what is to come starting on Thursday, when the season starts at Fenway Park against the Orioles at 2:10 p.m. ET.
"Don't sleep on us," Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez proclaimed early in camp.
Rodriguez showed no ill effects after missing all of last season due to myocarditis, though a late bout with dead arm will keep the lefty from taking the ball on Opening Day. Rodriguez looked much like the pitcher who had 19 wins and 213 strikeouts two years ago for the majority of camp, giving the Red Sox hope that he would return to form in 2021. Rodriguez might even be better than his breakout 2019 season in the sense that he looks more aggressive than ever in pounding the strike zone. Given the late dead arm issue, the Sox will have to keep a close eye on how Rodriguez responds to his workload, especially given all the time he missed.
New acquisition Franchy Cordero got a late start to Spring Training due to a positive COVID-19 test and then needing a couple of weeks to clear the necessary protocols. Given his history of injuries, the Red Sox took it slow with him so his status for Opening Day remains questionable. Cordero is projected as Boston's primary left fielder against righties.
Player who opened eyes
The Red Sox opened Spring Training hoping Bobby Dalbec would seize the job as the starting first baseman, and that's exactly what the right-handed-hitting masher did. Ranked the club's No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, he belted two grand slams and had six homers overall with a week left in camp. Dalbec, a natural third baseman, has also looked smooth on the other side of the infield. The team continues to be impressed by Dalbec's poise and work ethic. It is intriguing that Cora plans on using Dalbec as the No. 9 hitter. That could be a lot of homers at the end of the batting order.
Nathan Eovaldi's history of arm problems are well-chronicled. But perhaps they are a thing of the past. Eovaldi sure made it seem that way when he came out firing in his second Grapefruit League start against the Twins. Of his 66 pitches, 10 purred in at 100 mph or more. For perspective, Eovaldi -- who will assume Opening Day duties for the second straight season -- has only thrown 10 pitches or more at triple digits four times in his entire career in the regular season.
In case you missed it
I had a chance for a nice change-of-pace in early March when I drove across the state of Florida to Miami to watch D'Angelo Ortiz play at Westminster Christian School. A junior, D'Angelo is the 16-year-old son of Red Sox icon David Ortiz. It was a blast to sit next to David during D'Angelo's game and discuss the prospect of his son being drafted by 2022.