Red Sox lineup for Grapefruit League opener includes several regular starters

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 03: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox hits a home run during the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park on September 03, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 03: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox hits a home run during the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park on September 03, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox will roll out a lineup for their first Grapefruit League game that features several players expected to make the Opening Day roster.

The spring training schedule is officially underway as the Boston Red Sox host the Tampay Bay Rays at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers for the first game of Grapefruit League action.

Today’s lineup will look drastically different from the one the Red Sox will deploy in Toronto next month on Opening Day. Players will be eased into the routine of playing everyday so it could be weeks before we see a lineup that resembles what we can expect in the regular season. In the meantime, the starters will be a mix of veterans, prospects and fringe players battling for a roster spot.

Boston’s lineup for Game 1 of the spring schedule features several players who should be penciled in for a regular role with the major league club this season.

It begins with Andrew Benintendi leading off. Interim manager Ron Roenicke mentioned Benny as a potential leadoff candidate in the wake of the trade that sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles. Alex Verdugo is another option to fill that void at the top of the batting order but he may be sidelined into the regular season as he recovers from a stress fracture in his back.

Benintendi struggled as a leadoff hitter at the beginning of last season but he has the skill set to thrive in that role. The Red Sox will use spring training to evaluate how he performs in that spot.

Jackie Bradley Jr. will typically be buried near the bottom of the lineup but not when it includes a few players who might not make the roster out of camp. Bradley should see the majority of time in center field this season and is considered one of the regular starters. Batting him this high in the order is more about getting him at least a couple of at-bats before departing since starters often don’t play a full game early in spring training.

J.D. Martinez will probably be the cleanup hitter for most games but he moves up a spot with both Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers sitting this one out.

Bobby Dalbec is a player to watch this spring. He’s one of the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system and expected to make his big league debut this season. Whether or not he breaks camp with the team depends on how he performs this spring and how the Red Sox intend to utilize their other infielders.

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Dalbec gets the start at the hot corner this afternoon but that will be the domain of Devers once the season begins. If Dalbec is going to make the Opening Day roster it will likely be as one half of a first base platoon with Mitch Moreland. There simply isn’t enough playing time available at third base to warrant keeping Dalbec in the majors when he could be receiving regular at-bats in Pawtucket.

Michael Chavis is getting the start at first today but he’s not an ideal platoon partner for Moreland since neither hits lefties well. Dalbec crushes lefties so he could fill that role while Chavis splits time at second base with Jose Peraza.

Kevin Pillar will see plenty of time in right field while Verdugo recovers from injury. The centerpiece of the haul that Boston received from the Dodgers should see regular playing time once he’s healthy, which could relegate Pillar to a backup role. It will be interesting to see how much time he steals from Bradley in center field, particularly against lefties.

Tzu-Wei Lin and Jett Bandy fill out the bottom of the batting order this afternoon. Both will serve as organizational depth this season and they might not even see the major leagues.

The Red Sox will send Brian Johnson to the mound to start the game. He’s one of many underwhelming options competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Boston could pivot toward using the opener strategy that the Rays have popularized instead of using five starters. Johnson would be in the mix for a role during those bullpen games, which is essentially what today will be with the starter only expected to toss a couple of innings.

We won’t see many of the usual suspects in the bullpen this afternoon but there are 10 pitchers expected to be available to relieve Johnson.

Most notable among that crew is Bryan Mata, arguably the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system. He hasn’t pitched above Double-A in his career so he’s a long shot to make the roster but spring training provides an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the future of this pitching staff.

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The Red Sox and Rays face off at 1:05 p.m. Fans can watch the game on NESN or tune in on the radio by turning the dial to WEEI.