FORT MYERS — Ron Roenicke isn't going to keep the seat warm for Alex Cora, continue running the Red Sox exactly like Cora did and eventually slide back into the shadows as a career bench coach.
Just listen to his ideas.
On Day 2 of his tenure as Red Sox interim manager, Roenicke gave reporters 25 minutes to pepper him with questions. The 63-year-old has been coaching for almost 30 years and doesn't lack confidence nor conviction. He shared his philosophies and ideas, some finalized, some still developing.
Some are a continuation of Cora's, such as the belief that the closer role should be flexible. Brandon Workman is likely to start the year as the closer, but Matt Barnes or Darwinzon Hernandez could get some saves, depending on the matchups.
And some are being changed.
The most noteworthy from Day 2: no more babying the starting pitchers in spring training.
* Well, we did get off to a slow start last year and we talked about it,” the new skipper said. * We're going to make sure, at least we're going to try to make sure, that they get their six starts in in spring. … I think it's important that we try to get them to six starts and make sure they start off better than we started off last year.”
Last year, Eduardo Rodriguez and Hector Velazquez led the team with four starts each in Grapefruit League action. Rick Porcello had three starts. Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale and David Price had two each. The slow springs resulted in a slow April and eventually an 84-win season.
Cora defended it all the way through the 2019 season, saying after it ended that * our plan was the right one.”
At JetBlue Park on Wednesday, Roenicke wasn't so sure.
* It's hard to say whether we were wrong last year or not,” he said. * We did basically the same thing the year before in ‘18 and it turned out great.”
But it didn't take long for the Red Sox to realize it wasn't working in 2019, Roenicke said.
* We talked about it at the beginning of the season, when we didn't get off to a good start, we talked about it,” he said. * I don't think we came up with any conclusions then, but we wanted to see what happened during the season and get everybody together and see if it makes sense to try to get back to that sixth start.”
Sale got a head start this week. He's been sick with the flu, which turned into pneumonia, yet Sale still threw 60 pitches on Tuesday and was tentatively scheduled to throw 60 more on Wednesday.
Imagine the intensity to pitch through pneumonia. It's quite the contrary to last spring, when Sale didn't make his first start until March 16. He made his second and final spring start on March 23. His next outing was Opening Day in Seattle, when he gave up seven runs on three homers in a blowout loss.
This year, Sale leads a staff that includes the injury-prone Eovaldi, Rodriguez and bounce-back candidate Martin Perez. There is no fifth starter.
Rookie lefty Darwinzon Hernandez should have the stuff and body type to make it through a season as a starter, but Roenicke wants Hernandez to start the season in the bullpen.
It seems odd. Teams often use spring training to stretch out depth starters. Then the ones who won't be needed in the rotation can move to the bullpen in a long relief role.
But Roenicke explained his thinking. It was genuine and personal. And it was tough to argue.
* I think it's getting him used to the big leagues, getting him confident that he can pitch here,” the manager said. * Confidence is so huge in what we do. I know we talk about it but it really determines what a guy is going to do, not just now, but in the future.
* I can draw on my own career. When I was in Triple-A and I was hitting well and I got called up to the big leagues, I always did well. When I was in Triple-A and not playing very well and they called me up, I usually didn't play very well. When I started a season with a team and got off to a bad start, I was a mess.
* I think it's important for a confidence thing, especially for a young guy who has electric stuff like he has, I think it's important to know for sure that, ‘Hey, I belong here, I'm going to do anything you want. If you want me to close, I'll close.' And if you have that mindset, once you have that confidence you can move a guy in different areas.”
Maybe next year Hernandez will start, Roenicke said. Or maybe the year after.
Roenicke isn't afraid to make the decisions he sees fit, whether or not they differ from the previous regime.