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Red Sox notes: Xander Bogaerts ready to return Friday; Mookie Betts is playing center field

Rob Bradford
April 26, 2018 - 6:14 pm

TORONTO -- Remember Xander Bogaerts? In case you forgot, he was the best player on the Red Sox through April 8.

Friday he will reintroduce himself.

After making one rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket, Bogaerts -- who has missed the last 18 days due an ankle injury -- was cleared by doctors Thursday to rejoin the Red Sox' lineup.

"He should be back [Friday]," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "I talked to him today and he was very upbeat. He didn’t have to convince me. He was emphatic and genuine and he said it with conviction. I told him he was pitching tomorrow and he’s like, ‘I don’t care.' I’m like, 'OK, cool.' But no, it’s good. He’s upbeat and looking forward to having him back at shortstop in the middle of the lineup. It seems like, I know it’s a rehab game but his swing is still there, it’s not going to take that much."

Bogaerts, who was hitting .368 with a 1.111 OPS in nine games before his injury, should help a lineup that has struggled in his absence against left-handers. In his absence, the Red Sox have carried the second-worst batting average against left-handers (.212).

"It creates balance," Cora explained. "As you guys can see, we’re very left-handed right now and we sit a guy against a lefty coming in. The way he was driving the ball, it’s important to have him there, then the rest of the guys will fall into place.  You don’t put as much pressure to the other guys. There’s a consistent 1 through 5, although we’ve been consistent. But having him hitting fifth, there’s reason he’s hitting fifth. He’s a difference-maker."

As for Brock Holt, who has hit .381 with a .981 OPS since Bogaerts' injury, he will be spotted at various spots around the infield, most likely more than was planned before getting his recent run. (Update: Holt left Thursday night's game in the third inning with left hamstring tightness.)

"Using him like Mitch [Moreland]," Cora said of Holt. "He can play second. Obviously we have to take care of Xander. He can pay second, he can play short, he can play third base. He can play the outfield. Now when he doesn’t play and Mitch doesn’t play the same day, we have different options and different situations. ... The way he’s playing, obviously, you know, we’re happy that he’s healthy and swinging the bat well and we know that we can use him in different spots and he can contribute."

- The player Baltimore manager Buck Showalter called the best defensive rightfielder he had ever seen is moving ... at least for one day.

For the first time since Oct. 4, 2015, Mookie Betts started a game in center field, getting the nod at the position Thursday with Andrew Benintendi staying in left field and J.D. Martinez going to right field.

As Cora noted, the move wasn't portrayed as a big deal in the Red Sox clubhouse.

"It just took a text, that’s it," the manager said. "I texted him last night and he’s on board. We had a conversation today, it’s not going to happen often, but there’s certain places that we do feel that with the guy on the mound, their structure defensively, that part of the ballpark, we can defend that part of the ballpark better with him in center and Benny in left and we’ll be OK."

- After Joe Kelly pitched another scoreless inning Wednesday night, Cora designated the righty as his second-best bullpen option to bring in against left-handed hitters. Lefties are currently just 1-for-20 against Kelly.

But with the reliever's six-game suspension beginning, the Red Sox are going to find another route to get the key lefty hitters out. For now, said Cora, that task will fall to Brian Johnson, with the possibility of also implementing Hector Velazquez in such situations.