From his home in Puerto Rico today Red Sox manager Alex Cora took questions from the media. Among the standouts for me was an emphasis on aggressive game play, a hallmark of the team’s impressive 2018 campaign.
“I’ve been saying all along in our meetings, and to the media, I want our group to get to playing fast,” a trait any fan can tell you was all but lost in the moribund games of 2020. “It seems like they were one step behind last year,” Cora noted.
For 2021, Cora said he wants to get back to aggressive base running, steals, having better leads and other tactics to put pressure on their opponents. “We’re not going to be careless,” Cora said, “but if the situation comes up and we do believe that we can take advantage of the opposition in certain ways, we’ll do that.”
After a summer of watching what might best be described as players “going through the motions,” a return to aggressive Sox play, offensively and defensively, is a step in the right direction.
Now, a few other notes of interest from today’s teleconference:
- Cora says that in Andrew Benintendi‘s limited plate appearances of 2020, “he never felt right at the batter’s box,” with too many swings and misses that were a carryover from 2019, too. “The Andrew that we saw in October 2018, that’s the Andrew we want.” The manager says his focus isn’t on turning Benintendi into a power player but as someone who can get on base, steal bases, and play better defense. “We need him to get back to stay level in the strike zone, drive the ball all over the field, run around, and be a complete player.”
- Regarding starters Eduardo Rodríguez and Chris Sale, Cora says both are progressing but wouldn’t give a timetable for either’s return. Cora noted that E-Rod is working out now following his bout with heart complications related to COVID-19.
- For Cora, missing out on relievers Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernández for the bulk of 2020 was a major setback to the team. “Those two arms…are going to help us out [in 2021],” Cora said, adding that with Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, there’s good versatility in the pen. “I do believe that versatility is going to play a big factor on what we’re going to try to accomplish,” Cora said. Though the organization is committed to further improving pitching depth, Cora said he feels comfortable with relievers he has.
- Though he didn’t commit to Barnes as the closer for 2021, Cora sounded fairly certain that would be the case. “Matt Barnes is one of the best relievers the last few years in the big leagues and I have total trust in him that he can do the job.”
- “With the power, of course we like it,” Cora said of Sox newcomer Hunter Renfroe. “He can hit the ball out of the ballpark to any place at Fenway.” The manager said that having now reviewed video, Sox hitting coaches have ideas how Renfroe can improve on what was a down offensive year for Renfroe in 2020. “He’s a very well-rounded athlete,” Cora said, praising Renfroe’s defensive skills, as well.
- Despite stories that circulated this week that the 2021 Major League season might start late, Cora said he was confident he would be reporting to Spring Training on time in mid-February. “Our plan, as a family, is to start packing sooner rather than later” for Fort Myers, Cora said. “I think there’s a good sense that things are going to trend in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to it.”