Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Alex Cora explains thought process with relievers during 6-run 8th inning

Ryan Hannable
March 29, 2018 - 8:27 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- That was not the start the Red Sox were looking for.

Leading 4-0 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox bullpen allowed six runs to blow a dominant Chris Sale outing, falling to the Rays 6-4 on Opening Day.

After Sale threw six scoreless innings, Matt Barnes pitched a scoreless seventh and then Alex Cora called on right-hander Joe Kelly to start the eighth.

Kelly simply didn't have it, as he recorded just one out, allowing four earned runs and walking three batters.

The right-hander walked the first batter he faced, Daniel Robertson, who then came around to score on a Matt Duffy double to make it a 4-1 game. Kelly then walked the next two batters to load the bases. 

With lefty Bobby Poyner and righty Carson Smith warming, Cora summoned Smith to face the lefty Brad Miller, which didn't pay off as Smith walked him to allow the second run to score.

“We’re not going to put him in a spot like that," Cora said when asked why he didn't go with Poyner. "I know he can get people out, but in that spot, we got him up just to see where we go in that inning. But I think Carson was the right guy. He’s a guy that keeps the ball down. We were looking for groundballs.”

After getting the next batter to strike out, Denard Span delivered the big blow -- a two-out, bases-clearing triple to give the Rays a 5-4 lead.

Adeiny Hechavarria added an infield single to account for the sixth and final run.

“It’s baseball. You know it’s going to happen. I guess got this one out of the way right away," Cora said. 

Many wondered why Cora didn't use closer Craig Kimbrel at all during the inning, but the manager defended staying away from him.

With Kimbrel only pitching two innings all spring because of extended time spent in Boston to be with his young daughter following heart surgery, there was a plan mapped out and it didn't have him pitching in situations like Thursday. At least to open the year.

"He was available," Cora said. "But for where we’re at right now, physically, it doesn’t make -- for what we’re trying to accomplish here, we need him for the long run and not just for one out on Opening Day. When that situation presents, probably later, we’re talking about in 15 days or something like that, or before when he’s really ready, he’ll be in that situation.”

Added Cora: “I’m not going to change my mind because there’s a lot of stuff going on there. We have a plan, and we’ve got to take care of the players, and that’s the way we’re going to take care of him right now. We know what he went through, short spring training. He’s ready to pitch, but don’t want to jeopardize his health just because there’s traffic in the eighth inning and we feel like if he comes in, it’s an option.”

Instead of looking at one game, Cora is looking at the long run with Kimbrel.

“Not a health thing," he said. "Just, we decided we’re going to take care of him. We know the short spring training. And I know he’s ready. But we don’t feel right now that that’s a spot we should bring him in. It’s not fair for him. It’s just not. Yeah, we have 24 guys and we have to think about the whole team. We have 162 games, so we’ve got to think about our players and take care of them. I think that’s the best way to take care of him right now.”

Given all that went wrong in the eighth inning, it certainly didn't take long for Cora's decision-making to be questioned as a major league manager.