FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox spent the first half of the 2019 season without a reliever in a defined closer role, but interim manager Ron Roenicke does not have a similar plan for the 2020 season.
Roenicke said Wednesday that he envisions reliever Brandon Workman closing out games this season.
"I think with what he did last year, he deserves a shot to be the closer," Roenicke said.
Workman, who entered camp as the favorite to close games out, ended 2019 15th among major league relievers with an average of 13.06 strikeouts per nine innings. He also posted a 1.88 ERA and a 2.1 fWAR, which was tied for fifth among qualified relievers.
Under Alex Cora, Boston entered 2019 with a bullpen-by-committee approach, but the team had transitioned into a more structured approach with their relievers by midseason.
As has become normal with the influx of analytics into the game. Roenicke said he doesn't plan on locking in Workman only for the ninth inning, even with a formal closer title.
"I don't think it has to be automatic, but I know mentally, these guys handle things better if they know what's going on," Roenicke said. "If I have a discussion with him earlier and say, 'Listen you're the closer, but I may need you to stop an inning in the eighth because it's important,' I think they're fine with that."
Asked earlier Tuesday about closing, Workman kept his answer brief.
"That's not my call," Workman said.
Wednesday marked the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers in Boston's camp, with Chris Sale a notable absence on the backfields of JetBlue Park. Roenicke said Sale is still recovering from a flu that turned into mild pneumonia, and the Boston ace would be re-evaluated Friday.
Sale threw approximately 60 pitches Tuesday, according to Roenicke, and had plans to throw at some point Wednesday as well. He posted the worst season of his career in 2019, going 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 147 1/3 innings pitched. His season ended in August with elbow inflammation.
"It's concerning because he worked so hard to get himself to this point," Roenicke said. "His arm feels great. It was the worst time to come up with the flu. ... We're going to go easy when he comes back and make sure we're going through the right steps."
Roenicke is still getting used to his new job title. On Wednesday morning, he walked up to his old locker from his time as bench coach and realized his clothes were instead sitting in the manager's office.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball continues to investigate the Red Sox for sign-stealing allegations stemming from the 2018 season, leaving some uncertainty regarding the outlook of the season. With the process still ongoing, Roenicke said he was going to hold off naming a bench coach.
"It was brought up in the interview what I thought, so I mentioned a couple of things, but we'll talk about that more today and tomorrow, and it would probably help if the investigation is over and we can just make a decision," Roenicke said.
Roenicke also discussed the possibility of using an opener to start the season, something that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom helped initiate while with the Tampa Bay Rays. With David Price being dealt to the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade, the Red Sox are short a starter, entering camp with Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez in their projected rotation.
Roenicke said he would be open to a fifth starter, specifically mentioning Ryan Weber (5.09 ERA in 40 2/3 innings over 18 games and three starts in 2019).
"The opener is a possibility when you don't have the five guys you really like," Roenicke said. "Obviously, Chaim is very familiar with it. And talking to him about it, it wasn't like, 'This is what we want to do.' It was, 'What's the personnel that we have and what's the best way to get these guys to perform at a level that we hope they can be.'
"It ends up having to be a couple of days where they have openers. He's OK if we go there, but if we can fill it with a fifth guy, he's also OK if we don't go there. We see where we end up at the end of camp and if we have one day of an opener, it's OK."
Roenicke said he's leaning on his past experience as manager, specifically bringing up the media storm he managed when MLB suspended Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun in 2013 for performance-enhancing drugs.
"I know I'm going to get tough questions all year," Roenicke said. "But I really enjoy challenges and the experience makes it way easier to get through the challenges that happen. Going back to when I was in Milwaukee with the Ryan Braun thing with the suspension there, that was half a year of basically every day answering questions about it. Knowing what the players feel like going through different trials helps me to talk to them and for them to get through it."