Tomase's spring training observations: Keep an eye on this Yoshida stat originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Red Sox officially conclude Camp Good Vibrations on Tuesday before heading north for Thursday's opening day matchup with the Orioles at a chilly Fenway Park.
Here are five observations/things we've learned about the team as it embarks on a season with low expectations but at least the outside potential to surprise us.
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1. The roster remains mismatched
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy earlier in camp that one reason he believes the team will be improved is that the roster fits together better, but forgive me if I'm not seeing it.
Kiké Hernández is the team's best center fielder, and he's playing shortstop. Adam Duvall is the club's best right fielder, and he'll be in center. The No. 1 option for left field, Alex Verdugo, has shifted to right. The double play combo of Hernández and Christian Arroyo is extremely injury prone, and their primary backups are journeyman Yu Chang and the Triple-A-bound Bobby Dalbec, who's no one's idea of an everyday shortstop.
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Tanner Houck ideally should be in the bullpen -- and by the way, what a horrible spring for the promising right-hander -- but injuries to multiple starters have forced him into the rotation.
It's a roster teetering like a Jenga tower, and one injury could start a cascade of failures that sends the whole thing toppling.
2. Chris Sale should be starting on Opening Day
In the grand scheme, it doesn't matter who takes the ball for Game 1 of 162. But the Red Sox need a strong start like you wouldn't believe, and Sale is by far their best starter, not Corey Kluber.
Manager Alex Cora is holding Sale back until Saturday because he wants him to take a deep breath after a long and emotional return from multiple injuries. It also happens that the opener falls on both Sale's 34th birthday and the three-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery.
But there's no need to baby the 13-year veteran, who's mentally tough. He should be setting the tone on 2023, since the rotation will likely go as far as Sale takes it. It's his staff. Let him have it.
3. Umm, bullpen?
Red Sox fans can breathe a sigh of relief that closer Kenley Jansen returned to the mound on Monday, two days after leaving a game with light-headedness. That makes him the least of the bullpen's worries.
Primary setup men John Schreiber and Chris Martin have vacillated between mediocre and downright awful all spring. The pair combined to allow 32 baserunners in just 16 innings. Right-hander Ryan Brasier, perpetually on the verge of demotion/designation, wasn't much better, serving up a pair of homers.
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Injuries in the starting rotation and to lefty Joely Rodriguez have opened a potential roster spot for right-hander Kaleb Ort, who has been abysmal, totaling nearly as many home runs allowed (five) as strikeouts (seven). At least lefty Richard Bleier looks OK.
The bullpen was supposed to be a strength after Bloom retooled it this winter with an emphasis on strike-throwing. Spring training results often bear zero correlation to the regular season, but this new-look 'pen isn't giving us much to go on.
4. Raffy on the media guide
The Red Sox used to have no shortage of media guide or yearbook cover possibilities. Nomar or Mo Vaughn? Pedro or Papi? Pedroia or Lester? Betts or Bogaerts?
This year, there was only one choice, and we should get used to it: Rafael Devers. The slugging third baseman basically could treat the media guide like his personal class photo collage over the next five years, because who is going to displace him?
The Red Sox can only hope Brayan Bello, Triston Casas, and eventually Marcelo Mayer join Devers as impact players, because otherwise this will remain a one-man show for the foreseeable future.
5. One Yoshida question
There's no doubt the World Baseball Classic served as a coming-out party for cleanup hitter Masataka Yoshida, who set a tournament record with 13 RBIs while helping Japan win the title.
I gushed about his performance last week, particularly his easy takes and unflappable demeanor in pressure situations, two skills that should translate to the big leagues.
But some perspective is in order. The No. 1 question facing every Japanese hitter who comes to the U.S. is how he'll handle high fastballs, especially inside. And it's worth noting that not only did both of Yoshida's WBC homers come on changeups, but he did virtually all of his damage against sub-90 mph pitches:
- Infield single -- Slider (87.1 mph)
- Single -- Changeup (79.7 mph)
- Single -- Sinker (90.9 mph)
- Single -- Changeup (71.6 mph)
- Double -- Fastball (78 mph)
- Home run -- Slider (83.9 mph)
- Single -- Slider (82.9 mph)
- Single -- Slider (86.7 mph)
- Home run -- Changeup (86.1 mph)
That's one hit on a pitch above 90 mph, and we should note that he added a well-struck sacrifice fly to the right field fence on a 95 mph fastball vs. Korea.
So as great Yoshida looked in the clutch, he still has not answered the question that will decide his big-league fate.