Xander Bogaerts originally had an off day for Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers. The plan was for Jeter Downs to make his big league debut at shortstop in place of Bogaerts; Trevor Story, meanwhile, would remain at second. But Bogaerts doesn’t like missing games, especially at Fenway, so he pushed manager Alex Cora to play.
Cora and the Sox coaching staff finally gave in. The Sox penciled Bogaerts in at his usual position.
Rafael Devers had his own scheduled off day Wednesday, so the Sox shifted Downs to third base instead.
One small thing: Downs hasn’t played third since high school. Making your big league debut produces some jitters. Making your big league debut at a position you haven’t played since amateur ball? That’s another level of angst, or at least it should be. Prior to the first pitch, though, Downs played down that notion.
“I’m trying to think in my head that I’m at shortstop,” Downs said before the Sox’ 6-2 win against the Tigers Wednesday that sealed a series sweep at Fenway. “Catch it and throw it over to first or second.”
With fewer bunts in the game, you’re beginning to see many third basemen play deeper. That’s something the Sox allowed Downs to do so he could get some of the same shortstop feel.
“He’s a good defender, so we expect him to put him in the right place and make plays,” Cora said.
Andy Fox, the Sox’ major league field coordinator who works closely with the infielders, echoed Cora’s sentiments.
“He’s such a good athlete,” Fox said. “That’s going to take over instead of all the other stuff that comes with it, and we got him out there the last couple of days, so that should help.”
The ball didn’t waste any time finding Downs. With two outs in the first frame, Harold Castro hit a soft grounder toward Downs. He fielded it cleanly and threw it over to first, recording the first out of his big league career.
Downs went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on the night. He converted two outs total at third. Despite the lost night at the plate, Downs called his debut the coolest moment of his life.
“I can’t believe it happened,” he said. “I still can’t believe the game’s over. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted but oh well. We got the win and that’s the most important thing.”
Derek Jeter, whom Downs is named after, congratulated Downs via Twitter. During the eighth inning, the Fenway crowd began chatting Downs’s name while he was at-bat.
“I had to step out and take a deep breath,” Downs said. “Never had something like that happen before.”
Hernández suffers setback
The Red Sox didn’t want to call it a setback just yet Tuesday. But after another day of still feeling some pain in his strained right hip flexor, Kiké Hernández is coming along slower than expected, Cora said Wednesday.
“We were hoping that today he was going to go out there and move around and swing the bat,” Cora said. “But it hasn’t happened yet. So it slows him down. And now we just got to see what’s next.”
The Sox hoped Hernández would be eligible to come off the 10-day IL once he was eligible, which would have been June 18. That, however, proved to be too optimistic and makes the Sox’ outfield situation a bit murky when the team goes to Toronto next week.
Jarren Duran is unvaccinated against COVID-19, thus he’s ineligible for that trip to Canada. That leaves the Sox without two outfielders, and though Christian Arroyo, who will likely rejoin the team for their upcoming road trip after his bout with COVID, has some experience in right field, putting him out there for the course of a series wouldn’t be ideal.
That leaves the Sox choosing between Franchy Cordero and Rob Refsnyder at the position, with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center.
Cora said even if Hernández progressed to a point at which he could play in Toronto, they don’t want to rush him.
“He needs at-bats at this point,” Cora said. So [returning without a rehab stint] is a non-negotiable. We need him right.”
On the mend
Josh Taylor (back) came out of Tuesday’s rehab game feeling good. He will pitch again Thursday. Arroyo played shortstop for the WooSox and could rejoin the team in Cleveland ... Former Sox pitcher Roger Clemens was on hand at Fenway to see his son, Tigers infielder Kody Clemens. The rookie did not start on Wednesday ... Bogaerts will get an off day in Cleveland, likely the first game Friday, Cora said ... The Sox will start Nick Pivetta, Josh Winckowski, and Rich Hill on the mound this weekend against the Guardians.