Notes: Cora on his return; 6-man rotation?

February 18th, 2021

For Alex Cora, the joy of returning to the job he loves and the one he missed so much last year was ever-present as Red Sox pitchers and catchers had their first formal workout on Thursday.

The manager of the 2018-19 Red Sox, Cora parted ways with the organization last year due to his involvement in the '17 Astros sign-stealing investigation and was suspended by MLB for '20.

When the Red Sox conducted a managerial search to replace Ron Roenicke this past offseason, they landed back with Cora.

And perhaps the magnitude of that didn't fully sink in for Cora until this week, when he was able to put the uniform back on.

"It was fun just to be around the guys. It was a great day," said Cora. "The last few days, you start thinking about what happened and where I was and thinking about the family and the people who supported me throughout the process. Texting them and letting them and letting them know it was Day One and them texting me back, it was pretty cool.

"I'll say it again, I was out of the game for the wrong reasons -- and deservedly so. But moving forward, I'm not going to hide it -- it was an outstanding day on a personal level and this organization is pretty solid."

While the 2020 Red Sox, besieged by injuries to the top of their rotation and trying to find their way after trading Mookie Betts, stumbled to a 24-36 record, Cora plans on overseeing the resurgence of his team.

"We can contend in 2021," Cora said. "This is a good baseball team. It's a team that's very versatile, dynamic with a bunch of good athletes -- not only on the position player side, but on the pitching staff-wise. You've got sinkers and sliders and cutters and curveballs and fastballs up and fastballs down, changeups. We're not one dimensional. We have a good pitching staff. I'm very excited about what the organization has done since I got here in November."

E-Rod on track
One of the best sights for Cora upon his return? The presence of , who is a full go this spring after missing all of 2020 due to COVID-19 and myocarditis. Due to his heart condition, Rodriguez wasn't even allowed to do daily exercise until last season ended.

"Eddie threw a bullpen [session] yesterday," Cora said. "He actually did a good job in PFPs. There's no excuses there. Eddie's a full go. He's is in good spirits. You know, he looks in great shape. He worked hard during the offseason to get to this point and we're very excited to have a full season of Eddie and see what he can do."

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That said, Cora and the training staff will make sure Rodriguez doesn't over-exert himself too soon.

"We have to be careful, the way we treat him," said Cora. "Though he's a full go, that doesn't mean that. You know we're going to put restrictions on him. We'll take care of him, but I know he feels great where he's at right now."

Challenging Enrique
One of the things Cora is best known for as a manager is challenging his players to be more than they've been in the past.

An early project for Cora in 2021 is free-agent acquisition . While Cora raved about Hernández's defense, and said that some of his defensive metrics at second base were the best in MLB last season, he is looking for more offense out of him.

"As a hitter, I still believe there's something more there," said Cora. "We've been talking a little bit the last few weeks about how I'm going to use him, what I expect and challenge him to do certain things -- and we'll do that in Spring Training. And I do believe that what we do [with him in the lineup] on April 1, he's going to dictate that.

"I believe he can hunt fastballs and he can hit them for extra-base hits. And he's going to let me know with his performance where are we going to hit him, and where we go lineup-wise."

Six man rotation?
There could be more six-man rotations in MLB this season due to most starting pitchers making only 12 or so starts in the shortened 2020 campaign. Cora is keeping his options open on that for now.

"This is a topic that's going to come up. It's been a topic in the offseason, it will be a topic during Spring Training and obviously during the season," Cora said. "There's a lot of smart people -- smarter people than me -- that deal with stuff like this. I sounded like [Terry Francona] there, right?

"You talk to [trainer] Brad [Pearson], you talk to the sports science people and you decide what's going to be the plan. Right now, our plan is to get these guys get on track and little by little, and we'll make decisions. Let's see how they react the first few weeks.

"Let's see how Eduardo reacts to his bullpen [sessions] here and his live BPs, and we'll make decisions. I think those decisions are a lot easier this year compared probably to last year with the organization because we're deeper."

If the Red Sox do open with six starters, it could create a chance for prospect , who dazzled in his first three MLB starts last September, to start the season in the Majors.

Cora open on closer
With Spring Training just getting underway, Cora isn't ready to commit to a closer yet. did the job for the final month of 2020, after Brandon Workman was traded to the Phillies. and both have some experience pitching the ninth inning, though not a lot. And there are plenty of people who think that power lefty Darwinzon Hernandez has the stuff to close in the Majors.

"I think it's too early for that," said Cora. "We have a lot of candidates, a lot of guys in the bullpen that can get three outs in the seventh, eighth and ninth. We'll see how it goes in Spring Training. We'll have conversations with the guys and then we'll make a decision. You guys know how I feel about the ace reliever, and bouncing guys all over the place. It's not fair for them physically. You're asking a lot from them. So I like the structured bullpen. But when we have to make a decision, an announcement, we'll get there when we get there."

Waiver pickup
The Red Sox made a move on Thursday, claiming righty off waivers from the Tigers. To make room for Schriber on the 40-man roster, Boston placed lefty ace Chris Sale on the 60-day injured list. Sale is on the mend from Tommy John surgery and isn't expected to pitch until June or July at the earliest.

The 26-year-old Schreiber has made 28 career relief appearances for the Tigers from 2019-20, going 2-1 with a 6.28 ERA. A 15th-round pick by Detriot in the '16 Draft, Schreiber is 16-15 with a 1.99 ERA in 147 Minor League relief appearances.