FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP)
Three days after telling reporters he wanted to push harder in spring training to improve on last year’s slow start, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke pumped the brakes on two key players.
Left-hander Chris Sale and outfielder Alex Verdugo are both recovering from setbacks that could keep them out of the opening day lineup. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is also contemplating his careerafter playing just nine games in the past two seasons, but the pneumonia-induced weakness that has left Sale short of 100% is the biggest surprise for a team that won it all in 2018 and then never got its title defense going last year.
“If we think it’s important for him to get a certain amount of starts to build him up at a certain point, that’s what we’re going to do,” Roenicke said. “And if it means he’s not there for opening day, then he’s not there for opening day.”
Verdugo, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade, has a stress fracture in his spine that Roenicke said was known to the team before the deal but had not previously been disclosed. He is not expected to break camp with the rest of the team.
“Whether it’s to be ready for the start of the season or slightly after, we’re not really sure,” Verdugo said. “We’re not trying to rush that. We don’t want to give people a false hope or just even a deadline that we miss again. So we’re going to take our time on this or make sure that we’re right. That way, when I am playing, I’m able to be in Boston that it’s the whole year and it’s continuous. And we don’t we don’t have any setbacks.”
The Red Sox won a franchise record 108 regular season games in 2018 on their way to their fourth World Series championship in 15 years.
So much has happened since then.
The team eased off its regulars – especially the starting pitchers – the following spring, and they’ve since acknowledged that may have contributed to their 6-13 start. Sale, who only made two starts in spring training, went 0-5 with a 6.30 ERA in April; he was shut down with a sore elbow in mid-August with a 6-11 and 4.40 ERA, two of the many statistical low points in his career.
But hopes that he would bounce back quickly were dampened when he wasn’t able to make it to spring training because of a case of walking pneumonia. Sale, 30, reported on Friday – three days late – and ran sprints on Saturday but will mostly work out inside with the trainers instead of going through the usual spring training drills.
“The good thing is that baseball-wise, all that’s good. It’s just a matter of getting him strong again,” Roenicke said. “Obviously, he’s huge for our starting rotation and one of the best pitchers in the game.”
“It would be silly for us to try to push him, to make him come back sooner than probably he should, physically,” the manager said. “It’s not worth taking a risk on you know, having him opening day, exactly, and where we’re pushing him to get him there. He’s important to us as we go through this season and hopefully get him to the playoffs and keep him strong there.”
The Red Sox are taking the same approach to Verdugo, who has a stress fracture in his spine, which he picked up on top of an oblique injury last season.
“To be honest with you, if everything goes right, he still may not be there for opening day,” Roenicke said. “It’s silly to push him to where to have a setback and now this thing is bothering him the whole year. We need to get him 100%. We need him to be healthy just to see what kind of player we have and the kind of player that he knows he is.”
Also Saturday, Verdugo addressed allegations that he failed to stop the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl when he was a Dodgers minor leaguer in 2015. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said they investigated the claims before acquiring him and “would not have moved forward with the acquisition if we had found anything disqualifying.”
Verdugo addressed his teammates on Saturday, and then told reporters “I was cleared of wrongdoing, of anything.”
“It was a terrible thing that happened. But, it was in my past. It’s something that, I’ve grown from,” he said. “I want to show people that I am a good guy. I care a lot about this game, and I have a big heart. I want people to judge me for, obviously, the way I play. The way I go out there and what I bring out to the field: the energy, the hard work, the giving a hundred percent. That’s what I want to be known for. Obviously, not something that happened several years back.”
According to The Washington Post, the girl said she was partying with two Dodgers players and two women when she got in a fight with the women. Rather than help her, the players videotaped the fight and posted it on social media. The girl told police one of the players sexually assaulted her.
Other media reports identified the players as Verdugo and James Baldwin. Verdugo denied being present and said he would have intervened it if he had been.
“If I was around for anything that had happened, I would have put a stop to it,” he said. “I would have helped out. I would have done something.”