Boston Red Sox’s Alex Cora: ‘Xander (Bogaerts) is the leader of this team ... We’re going to miss him’


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Head trainer Brad Pearson walked into the dugout in the middle of the second inning Tuesday and gave manager Alex Cora more bad news.

“It was weird when Brad came in,” Cora said. “I was like, ‘Whoa. Gosh.’”

Pearson let Cora know All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts was the sixth Red Sox player and eighth person traveling with the team to test positive for COVID-19 since Friday.

Bogaerts, who stroked an RBI single in the first inning, already had jogged out to his position for the bottom of the second. Cora waved him back to the dugout.

“It’s not easy because whenever you see Brad’s number or Chaim (Bloom’s) number. They’re not calling you to say, ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning. How was your night?’” Cora said. “It seems like whenever Brad texts me or calls me, it’s something negative.”

The Red Sox lost 8-5 to the Rays here at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to keep going,” Cora said. “They’re not going to stop the tournament for the Red Sox. We know that. So we’ve got to figure this out, show up tomorrow, play good baseball, do it the next day and then go home and see where we’re at.”

This is the worst possible time to be without Bogaerts and to face a major COVID outbreak.

Twenty-eight games remain in Boston’s regular season. The Red Sox are fighting for a postseason spot and have played under .500 (12-16) in August. Now they have to try to win games without their best hitter. The Athletics are just one game behind Boston for the second Wild Card spot.

“Obviously Xander, he’s the leader of the team,” Cora said. “He’s one of the best shortstops, if not the best shortstop, in the league. And we’re going to miss him but we still have our pitching staff. We still have some capable guys that can swing the bats. ... We need to play better defense.”

Who will play shortstop? Jonathan Araúz, a 23-year-old batting .175 in 20 big league games this season, is Boston’s only true option at shortstop on the active roster.

“I’m like 15 pounds overweight, can’t move,” Cora joked when asked about his shortstop options. “(Third base coach) Carlos (Febles), he had gout for two years so he can’t play short. Jackie’s here. López.”

López is on the taxi squad. He has batted .260 with a .321 on-base percentage, .378 slugging percentage, three homers, 12 doubles and one triple in 58 games for Triple-A Worcester this season. He never has played in the big leagues. He has 441 starts at shortstop in the minors.

Danny Santana likely will be activated from the IL on Wednesday. He has made 104 starts at shortstop in the majors. But he hasn’t played the position since 2019.

“I do feel we still can compete,” Cora said. “We still can make it to the playoffs. It’s just a matter of what we’re going to do in the upcoming days just to slow this down not only off the field. But on the field, how we are going to try to quote-unquote attack this.”

Kyle Schwarber added, “I think the biggest concern is just the health of the individuals. This is no joke. It’s nothing to not take serious. You just hope it’s a light case ... that they’re not feeling it super hard and that they recover quickly. That’s kind of the biggest thing that’s on everyone’s minds is the well-being of all the guys. It’s the invisible enemy. It sucks. But we have to keep moving forward and putting our best foot forward. We’re in the middle of this thing and it’s the next-man up mentality right now. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

Bogaerts, Kiké Hernández, Martin Pérez, Matt Barnes, Christian Arroyo, Hirokazu Sawamura, quality control coach Ramón Vázquez and strength and conditioning coach Kiyoshi Momose all have tested positive.

Reliever Josh Taylor and first base coach Tom Goodwin also are quarantining after being identified as close contacts.

The Red Sox are one of just seven MLB teams that has not reached the 85% team vaccination threshold.

“We’ve got Chris (Sale), we’ve got Eduardo (Rodriguez), we’ve got Nate (Eovaldi), we’ve got Tanner (Houck) lined up for the next four games,” Cora said.

The Red Sox fell behind 7-1 on Tuesday. But brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

“It’s tough but we played till the end today,” Cora said. “We put good at-bats. We had the tying run at the plate. The pitching staff did a good job after that bad (third) inning. We didn’t stop playing, which is good. We were able to do a few things pitching-wise. We reset our bullpen. We played sloppy baseball there for a little bit but I guess the effort was there until the end. We were one swing away from tying that game.”

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