For the first time since signing his five-year, $110 million contract, J.D. Martinez suited up in a Red Sox uniform. After a week of confusion and re-negotiations, followed by a week of practice, Martinez was placed in the lineup Wednesday against the Twins.
The slugger batted cleanup and started in left field, finishing 0-for-2 in four innings.
“It felt good. It was fun,” Martinez said. “You don’t realize how much you miss something until you can’t do it and you haven’t been able to do it for a while. So it was fun to get out there.”
Well aware of the expectations from Red Sox Nation, Martinez doesn’t want them to get in the way of his performance on the field.
“I feel like you guys have the expectations, the fans, and the media,” Martinez said. “Really, I’m just going to go out there and play my game and do what I’ve been doing for the last four or five years. As far as the pressure and stuff goes, I’m just going to try to go out there and play my game.”
Manager Alex Cora, who is slotting Martinez back in the four spot on Thursday, says he is glad to see his new star player out there in the field.
“It’s a Spring Training game, so he needs his reps,” manager Alex Cora said. “But to see him out there, actually to see him around, spend time with him, it’s a lot different than the last week.”
Despite his start in left field, Cora says Martinez will be the team’s primary designated hitter going forward.
Nunez making debut Friday
The day after Martinez made his Red Sox debut, infielder Eduardo Nunez will get back on the field for the first time in Spring Training.
The veteran utility man was supposed to make his debut alongside Martinez but was a late scratch from the lineup because Cora didn’t want to play him in the rainy conditions.
With Dustin Pedroia still hurt, Nunez is Cora’s choice to be the team’s Opening Day second baseman. Despite that role being temporary for Nunez, Cora claims he has bigger plans for Nunez even once Pedroia returns.
“I’ve got a good feeling [for how to use him],” Cora said.
Nunez hit .321 with a .892 OPS in 38 appearances with Boston, but a lingering knee injury kept him out of the end of the regular season and most of the playoffs. Cora, who was the bench coach for the Houston Astros last season, was only able to coach against Nunez in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Nunez reunited with the Sox in February, signing a two-year deal worth up to $10 million.
Cora to play around with bullpen
Craig Kimbrel won his second career Reliever of the Year Award in 2017, but past him, the Red Sox have a lot of questions in the bullpen.
Kimbrel has the closer job locked up, but the spot for the setup man is still a three-horse race. Carson Smith, who returned from Tommy John late last season, has a career 1.95 ERA in almost 90 IP and has only allowed one earned run in his 11 games as a Red Sox. Smith is healthy, but the question still remains if he is back to his old self.
Joe Kelly had a hot start to the season, making headlines with his fastball that routinely topped 100 mph, but a 4.98 ERA in the second half of the season and a 4.55 ERA at Fenway Park are cause for concern. He is talented, but it is unclear whether or not he can be relied on to be an every-day eighth inning guy.
Matt Barnes has been more of an innings-eater than a setup man in his last three seasons in Boston, but Cora says he is still in the running for the setup spot. His 4.30 career ERA is nothing special, but he is still just 27-years-old and could make a leap in 2018.
The setup role could be split between the three, as Cora said he is not opposed simply playing the hot hand.
“It’s just a matter of mixing and matching and know who’s coming up and with the information that will be provided, we’ll go from there.”
Robby Scott is one of the few lefty pitchers coming out of the bullpen, so most assumed he would be a lock for a roster spot. However, Cora was non-committal, claiming that he wasn’t going to keep a player just because he was a lefty.
“If you have to carry four lefties, you carry them as long as they get people out,” Cora said. “If you don’t have to carry them, you don’t have to carry them. If your righties can get lefties and righties out, you do that. So, it’s just a matter of who can get people out.”
Hanley Ramirez makes bold prediction
The Red Sox haven’t had an MVP since Pedroia won the award in 2008, but Hanley Ramirez says that’s about to change.
“That guy will be the MVP,” Ramirez said while pointing out 23-year-old Andrew Benintendi.
The outfielder was the runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year last year, batting .271 and driving in 90 runs while joining the 20/20 club. Fangraphs’ projections have Benintendi batting .283 with 18 home runs and 91 RBI.
Benintendi would be following in the footsteps of Pedroia, who won MVP the year after a successful rookie campaign. Pedroia, however, won Rookie of the Year. Benintendi winning MVP would be huge for the Sox, but for now, it’s still a fantasy for everyone except Ramirez.