E-Rod takes big step with live BP session

Cora gives potential glimpse of Opening Day lineup; Vazquez goes deep

March 15th, 2018

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With a strong right knee to pitch on, Red Sox left-hander has turned a corner in his comeback from surgery and will pitch in a Minor League game on Wednesday.

That was the schedule outlined by pitching coach Dana LeVangie after the encouraging development of Thursday, when Rodriguez fired three innings of live batting practice.

"He looked confident and trusted his knee and he's building up innings, so getting up and down three times, it was a good day," said LeVangie. "He can finally trust his pitching. He can finally trust his knee. It's a different vibe with him right now, a different look."

Though Rodriguez probably doesn't have enough time left on the calendar to be ready for the start of the season, the fact he is fully healthy for the first time in years is more important. Now it's just a matter of building up his pitch count.

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"It was pretty good," Rodriguez said of Thursday's BP. "I was just working on my mechanics. There was nothing about the knee. I just want to build my shoulder back. Three innings, it felt really good."

When was the last time Rodriguez could pitch with his knee entirely out of his mind?

"When I was 15, before I had my first injury," Rodriguez said.

While Rodriguez has already shown flashes of brilliance in each of his three seasons with the Red Sox, he could take it to another level in 2018 with his rebuilt knee.

"I feel it's more about myself getting ready to go 100 percent and not just go out there like I was in the past, where I was just going go out there and trying to pitch," Rodriguez said. "You know what happened in past years. Go out there at 88, 89 [percent] and get people out. The plan is to get out there when I'm 100 percent."

Lineup for opener?

Manager Alex Cora's lineup for Thursday's 7-5 win over the Blue Jays looked a lot like the one you could see for Opening Day on March 29 at Tropicana Field vs. the Rays.

It went like this: RF; LF; 1B; J.D. Martinez DH; SS; 3B; 2B; CF; C.

"Maybe," said Cora when asked if it would the same one he uses in two weeks.

One of the bigger decisions is whether to hit Ramirez third and Martinez fourth, or vice versa. Right now, Cora seems to be learning toward keeping Ramirez third.

"He's swinging the bat well," said Cora. "One thing about Hanley, we don't need Hanley to hit 40 home runs. We need Hanley to be a good hitter. We saw it earlier last week, hitting line drives the other way, hitting the ball in the gaps, and that's the most important thing. I think sometimes he gets caught up in the whole power talk and he's a guy if he stays on the fastball in the middle of the field, he's going to get some hangers and he's going to hit it out of the ballpark.

"When he tries to create [power], that's when he gets in trouble. He's a guy that I feel he can put quality at-bat after quality at-bat and can hit in that spot. It's just a matter of in the next few weeks, we're going to decide where we're going."

Vazquez goes deep

Vazquez took one of his best swings of the spring when he launched a two-run homer over the replica Green Monster in the bottom of the second on Thursday. While Vazquez's defense is already excellent, it remains unclear what kind of hitter he will become.

Last year, he did well in the contact department, hitting .290 with five homers and 32 RBIs.

"He seems like he knows his swing. He knows what he wants to do. He seems like he can shoot that ball the other way whenever he feels like it," said Cora. "His bat stays through the zone with two strikes. The other day, he was out in front, but he was able to keep that barrel long enough in the strike zone that he put the ball in play to get a base hit. Like everybody else, he needs to understand that the more swings in the zone, the better hitter you're going to be."

Up next: The Red Sox play under the lights at JetBlue Park for a 6:05 p.m. ET contest on Friday against the Twins on MLB.TV. will get the start. , and , who are all competing for spots in the bullpen, will see action.