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Aggressive Red Sox don’t expect problems to fix themselves

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Aggressive Red Sox don't expect problems to fix themselves

Aggressive Red Sox don’t expect problems to fix themselves originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

When the Red Sox saw obvious problems last year, they finally fixed them. Maybe. After much debate.

Kiké Hernández brutalized the infield defense at shortstop for three months before being traded to the Dodgers and replaced by Yu Chang, who represented a significant (and late) defensive upgrade. The Red Sox hoped to await the return of Trevor Story, but with disastrous results.

The rotation suffered a similar neglect in July when injuries to Chris Sale, James Paxton, Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock left manager Alex Cora with two healthy starters and a flurry of bullpen games. The days off helped the Red Sox survive for a month, but wear and tear came like a hammer in August and it was the farewell season.

Craig Breslow replaced Chaim Bloom as chief baseball officer and promised to move aggressively, and while that didn’t translate into a busy offseason (blame the property), has been reflected in a more urgent approach to problem solving.

The 2024 Red Sox have faced many challenges, from Story’s season-ending shoulder injurystill initial staff decimatedto losing slugging first baseman Triston Casas possibly for the rest of the first half.

But unlike a year ago, when problems festered for weeks without being addressed, these Red Sox aren’t messing around. Just consider some of the following pivots, who have helped the team get off to a surprising 19-16 start.

  • Left-hander Joely Rodriguez surprisingly made the opening day roster, beating out starting setup man Brennan Bernardino. Rodriguez gave up an opening-day home run, took the loss in his next appearance and made exactly one clean start in 11 attempts. It took Bernardino just 10 days to return and he has been a success ever since, posting a 0.64 ERA as a bridge man and starter. The Red Sox upgraded Rodriguez to Triple-A last week.

  • Story’s injury created a suction vortex at shortstop. Rookie David Hamilton simply wasn’t ready for prime time. Romy González lasted only one game before getting injured. That left one option that the organization didn’t universally like, which was to move electric center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela to his second-best position. The Red Sox are 9-6 since Rafaela moved to shortstop, and even if he is a better outfielder than infielder, he has stabilized a position of weakness.

  • With Rafael Devers in and out of the lineup and Casas injured, the Red Sox needed offense. Enter Wilyer Abreu. Moving Rafaela to shortstop opened up space in the outfield, with Jarren Durán moving to center and Tyler O’Neill flipping from right to left. The Red Sox gave Abreu full-time at-bats, and since he became a starter, he’s hitting .377 with a 1.065 OPS, plus a couple of tremendous catches in right field.

  • Manager Alex Cora got defensive over suggestions that the team had benched designated hitter Masataka Yoshida, but it’s clear he wasn’t going to force him into the lineup just because he makes $18 million a year. Yoshida is currently seeking a second opinion on his injured thumb, but even before that, the Red Sox didn’t do everything they could to get him at-bats, at one point giving journeyman Tyler Heineman the start at designated hitter in a victory over the pirates. Don’t be surprised if Breslow finds a way to leave the one-dimensional Yoshida behind this winter.

  • Knowing that Casas would be inactive for several months, the Red Sox gave Bobby Dalbec the first opportunity at first base, but did not give him much time. As Dalbec continued to strike out in nearly half of his plate appearances, Breslow struck a deal for Cubs first baseman Garrett Cooper and then signed Dominic Smith. The two veterans will have the opportunity to fill the position until Casas returns. Dalbec is back in the minors.

  • Then there is second base. The Red Sox mixed and matched as they awaited the return of Vaughn Grissom. Enmanuel Valdez got the most reps, but was shaky defensively and hit just .156. Veteran utility Pablo Reyes only hit .183 and also struggled unusually in the field. Looking for a more stable defensive presence in reserve after activating Grissom, the Red Sox purchased versatile infielder Zack Short from the Mets. Valdez was sent to Worcester and Reyes was designated for assignment.

  • We haven’t even mentioned rotation. With Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello and Whitlock on the shelf, the Red Sox didn’t stop making starters around Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford. They called up Cooper Criswell and he responded by going 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA in four starts. Not bad for a $1 million signing. They also moved long man Josh Winckowski into the rotation, leaving them with only one starter per shift. They expect Pivetta and Bello to return soon, but it feels safe to say they will leave the organization for pitching help if any of their injuries prove more lasting.

Taken individually, none of these moves are particularly earth-shattering. But together, they could be the difference between 19-16 and 16-19, making for two very different seasons.

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