Alex Cora is good at a lot of things in the world of managing. That’s probably obvious considering he won 108 games and ran through one of the toughest postseason slates in recent memory without much trouble, all in his first year as a major-league manager. You don’t accomplish that without first of all having a ton of talent at your disposal, which Cora did, but also having many strengths. The Red Sox manager excels just about everywhere you’d want for a manager, knows his clubhouse and pushes all of the right buttons.
One of those buttons that was among the most jarring in his first season was his propensity to rest his players. It’s something we’ve discussed many times over the last year, and it’s something he emphasized publicly time and again throughout the summer. The baseball season is a marathon, and Cora recognizes that. Obviously, for a team like the Red Sox the ultimate goal is to win a World Series, which means there are seven months to get through and ideally a team peaks in that final month. So, players need to be fresh for the end of the year. Cora did a phenomenal job of making sure that happened.
He’ll surely have the same idea in the coming season as Boston attempts to become the first team to win back-to-back World Series since the Yankees almost 20 years ago. The rest this year is likely to be even more extreme than it was in 2018 after they played an extra month in a long World Series run. That will go double for the starting pitchers, who not only had an extra month of work but also worked extra hard in that month. They were, of course, being used as both starters and relievers. Cora has already said he is going to take his time working his starters back into action this spring, but it’s going to extend into the regular season as well. The Red Sox will want to give their starting pitchers as much rest as possible throughout the summer, and fortunately they are built to make that happen.
There are a couple different ways Boston can ensure they can grab some extra rest for the rotation. One of them is to simply schedule in more days off than the actual schedule allows. Scheduled days off and weather cancellations will do some of this work, but look for Cora to work in some six-man turns through the rotation during stretches in which the Red Sox don’t have a day off for an extended period of time. In fact, as the team opens up on the west coast Cora has said he plans on using a six-man rotation on the first turn of the year before going back to a tradition five-man. That will happen throughout the year.
Cora will also be able to be a little more conservative with his starters’ workloads, particularly early in the year. There’s little reason to push guys like Chris Sale coming off a shoulder injury and Nathan Eovaldi coming off an extreme workload with an injury history. Later in the year when the importance of individual games increases that will change, but for the first half Cora can remove his starters a little earlier than usual. Saving bullets for later in the year obviously isn’t really as simple as it sounds — pitches not thrown earlier can’t just be thrown later — but the lighter workload early in the year can prevent overexertion which in turn can prevent injury. With pitchers that could already be fatigued after a shorter offseason, it can only help.
Fortunately for Cora and his pitching staff, they have the tools to make sure all of that happens. In terms of the six-man rotation at times, with guys like Steven Wright, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez all with major-league experience they have guys they trust in starting roles. Of course, with injuries and minor-league options, they may not all be healthy at the same time, but even beyond them guys like Erasmo Ramirez, Chandler Shepherd, Mike Shawaryn and Dedgar Jimenez that could feasibly come up at some point as emergency depth.
Furthermore, any of those names plus more can be used as multi-inning relievers that will help with the lighter workloads and allowing pitchers to leave games earlier. They can also utilize a spot or two in their bullpen for guys with options. A lot of their relievers are out of options, so this may be easier said than done, but guys like Colten Brewer, Zach Putnam, Bobby Poyner, Josh Taylor, Travis Lakins, Darwinzon Hernandez, Durbin Feltman and more can be used as up-and-down guys when fresh arms are needed.
The point being, Alex Cora is going to want to rest everyone this year, and that will go doubly for the pitchers. While Dave Dombrowski looks to add some high-end talent to the bullpen, he’s done a great job of building lower-end depth that will only help Cora’s quest for rest.