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Newcomers help Red Sox topple Rays, 9-1

By CJ HADDAD - | Mar 16, 2023

JetBlue Park in Fort Myers when the Boston Red Sox hosted the Tampa Bay Rays this week. CJ HADDAD

The Boston Red Sox had hot bats at JetBlue Park Wednesday afternoon despite brisk conditions, collecting a 9-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Grapefruit League action.

The offense was backed by newly acquired outfielders Rob Refsnyder and Adam Duvall. Refsnyder, a South Korea native who signed a Minor League deal with the Sox back in 2021, hit a bases-clearing double to left in the bottom of the first that plated three runs. Duvall, who signed a 1-year, $7 million deal in January after spending an injury-shortened 2022 with the Atlanta Braves, launched a solo shot to leadoff the third inning, his second of the spring.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day came prior to the action, as Sox Manager Alex Cora named Corey Kluber as the team’s Opening Day Starter. The 36-year-old signed with Boston on a 1-year deal this offseason, and will make his sixth career Opening Day start on March 30 versus Baltimore at Fenway Park.

Kluber is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, having earned pitching’s top honors in Cleveland in 2014 and ’17.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Kluber said. “There’s plenty of guys in this clubhouse who could’ve taken the ball on Opening Day. The way I look at it, regardless if you pitch the first day, the fifth day, it really only matters that first time through the order and then everything kind of gets messed up anyways. But it is an honor. I’ve done it before, and I try to make it as normal as possible.”

The righty, who boats a career 3.31 ERA, looked quite sharp on the mound Wednesday, going five strong innings allowing one earned run on four hits, walking just one and striking out six.

“I felt pretty good out there on the mound today,” Kluber said. “I think that each time, obviously, you’d like it to be a winning progression towards Opening Day. A couple times out ago it wasn’t the best, but (I) righted the ship pretty quickly, and I think the last two have been steps in the right direction.

“(I had) a pretty good mix of commanding different pitches — able to throw most of my pitches for strikes and able to do a job in keeping hitters off balance.”

In the sixth inning, Boston’s Bobby Dalbec, who has been getting work at shortstop this spring, tripled to center that brought home Raimel Tapia.

Also appearing in the sixth inning as a welcomed sight was young right-hander Garrett Whitlock. The 26-year-old was shut down late last year due to a hip injury that required surgery. Wednesday marked his first appearance in a game setting this spring.

Over two innings of work he allowed just one baserunner via a walk, and struck out three.

“I don’t feel the hip, it’s not a thought in my head,” Whitlock said. “So now it’s just fine-tuning the craft and making sure I’m in tip-top pitching shape. Just normal progress.”

Cora said late last year the Whitlock would be a member of the starting rotation after serving as only a reliever in his breakout 2021 season, and getting nine starts in 2022.

“He did everything for us that we asked last year, but he wasn’t healthy,” Cora said pregame Wednesday. “There’s a reason we (shut him down), because where we were in the season, why push it? The reason we stopped it right away was for him to be able to pitch as many innings as possible this year.”

Whitlock shouldn’t miss too much of the regular season, hoping to rejoin the team no more than a few series into the schedule.

“I’m excited. I think it’ll be a really good challenge,” Whitlock said. “It’s one of those things where I love trying new things, so it’ll be a lot of fun.”

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj