OAKLAND, Calif. — Could the traditional closer soon be a thing of the past?
The Red Sox deployed Matt Barnes in the seventh inning to face the A’s most dangerous hitter, Khris Davis, in their 6-3 win on Wednesday night.
Barnes also pitched the eighth, then manager Alex Cora used Ryan Brasier against the top of the A’s order for the save in the ninth inning.
Though Cora used Barnes for the save in the first win of the season last week, he wanted Barnes in what he perceived was the highest-leverage spot in Wednesday’s game. He liked the matchup, with Barnes’ big curve giving Davis trouble (Davis struck out). And now it’s clear the Red Sox will be going with a closer-by-committee approach in 2019.
“The game will dictate what we do, and every game is different,” Cora said Thursday morning. “We’ll adjust.”
Take a look around the majors and there are at least a half-dozen teams with no sure closer. Could the role become extinct?
“I don’t think so,” Cora said. “Obviously there’s a lot of teams out there, they’re using guys, they’ve got a closer. It seems like the Rays now have a closer. I don’t know. I guess in our situation, our guy last year (Craig Kimbrel), he was a closer. But at one point in his career he had no saves. He evolved into that. It all depends on what you’ve got. The weapons you have and how you feel about that. There’s teams that I think they’ll still have it. I don’t know how many. I’m not saying every team will have it, but there’s still going to be a few teams out there that are going to have one.”
Kimbrel, still a free agent, was rarely used in a versatile way last year. He was almost always deployed as a regular closer in the ninth and often struggled when called upon in non-save situations.
“I mean, I do feel like last year, what happened was spring training and the situation that Craig (being home with his ill daughter) went through,” Cora said. “We had to adjust. I go back to when it really mattered, and we used him for two innings. Obviously having Barnes kind of like a situational guy, we felt very comfortable with him throughout the season. Nothing against Craig, but he’s still good, you know?
“Now we have the luxury of having Brasier and we have Barnes. He understands that. As long as we communicate and they know coming into a series where they fit and how we’re going to use them, I don’t see a problem. So far, so good.”
LINEUP BACK IN ORDER
Xander Bogaerts was back in the Sox’ lineup on Thursday afternoon and went 1-for-2 with two walks. He missed Wednesday’s game with a sore left leg after following a pitch off himself on Tuesday night. Rafael Devers got a routine day off at third base and the Sox will continue giving days off to regulars this weekend.
Steve Pearce was activated from the injured list and started at first base for the first time since the World Series, going 1-for-3 with three strikeouts. Sam Travis was sent back to Triple-A Pawtucket.
The PawSox opened their season on Thursday and notably had prospect Michael Chavis playing first base. He was 3-for-4 with a home run. Chavis has played mostly third base previously and the Sox also wanted to see him at second at some point. Former Mets closer Jennry Mejia had the save in the PawSox’ win.
There’s still no news on who will start Sunday’s game from the mound as the Sox look to use a sixth starter and give the regular rotation some extra rest. The Sox are also off on Monday and Wednesday next week. Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez are options to start Sunday’s game.
ONE-TWO PUNCH NOT HOT YET
Mookie Betts is hitting .235 with a .698 OPS to start his MVP title defense, but Cora saw good things from Betts on Wednesday night.
“I think when he started fouling off pitches, he’s getting close,” Cora said. “He’s getting very close. Better takes. On time. Seeing the ball better. That was a tough at-bat (in the ninth inning). That 2-2 was a fastball to the backstop. He has to hang in there with off-speed stuff, off-speed stuff. He worked hard. His swing and after that first at-bat he gave me the feedback, he’s like, ‘I’m getting there.’ Just have to be patient. We know he’s going to start hitting.”
Out of the two-hole, Andrew Benintendi is also struggling, hitting .207 with a .549 OPS to start the year.
“He’s chasing pitches up in the zone,” Cora said. “He’s not comfortable in the strike zone, that’s about it. When you chase pitches that’s what happens. Right now, that’s what he’s doing.”
AN INTERVIEW TO FORGET
With the Sox traveling to Phoenix to play the Diamondbacks, Cora reflected on his interview to be the D-backs manager back in October, 2016, just before Arizona hired former Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo to be the manager.
Cora was a little annoyed with former Red Sox general manager and current D-backs GM Mike Hazen following the interview process.
“So I went from Puerto Rico to Phoenix,” Cora said. “That’s a long ways. I interviewed the whole day. I knew the odds were slim. There was a favorite in Vegas (Lovullo). When I got home a few days later, Mike calls me and he’s like, ‘We’re going in a different direction. We feel like you need to gain experience.’ Jokingly, sarcastically, but actually being honest I said, ‘You thought I was going to gain experience from San Juan to Phoenix?’”
Cora had no major league coaching experience at the time, but it wasn’t like Hazen didn’t already know that when he interviewed him.
“Then the conversation became serious,” Cora said. “And he’s like, ‘Alex, all you have to do is get back on the field. Get in uniform, gain that experience and you’ll be OK.’ I was in Bristol (working for ESPN) when that happened. It was during the playoffs, October, and two days later (Astros manager) A.J. Hinch called me and offered me the bench coaching job.
“A day later after that call, Torey called me for the bench coach job in Arizona. I was like, ‘it’s the trendiest organization, sabermetrics, the way they do things, and the chance to win. It was right there with the Astros.’ But Mike was the one that said just get on the field and things are going to happen quick. He was right.”
Cora said he still stays in touch with Hazen and has a good relationship with the GMs he previously interviewed with before getting hired in Boston.
“Well, most of them,” he said.