PHILADELPHIA — Will the Boston Red Sox ever be truly tested before the playoffs?

The Sox are the only team in the majors without a four-game losing streak. They’ve lost three in a row just once all year, in late April.

But after this weekend’s three-game set with the Rays, who are remarkably holding onto a winning record despite selling off pieces before the trade deadline, the Red Sox will get a test with four games at Fenway Park against Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians.

After that, they shouldn’t be tested again until Sept. 2 when they begin six straight against the Braves and Astros.

Could a losing streak before late September actually benefit them? The Dodgers lost 16 of 17 last August into September before hitting their stride just before the playoffs, when they came one game short of winning the World Series.

Manager Alex Cora was asked if the Red Sox have faced any adversity this year.


“No, honestly, from the group, I can’t complain,” Cora said. “They do get information, they digest the information, they go play. They don’t get caught up in the whole thing and that was from Day 1.

“For me, honestly, it’s to keep everybody fresh. It seems like it’s easy but it’s not. We go four games against the Yankees, we know what that means. Then we go to Toronto on that turf, and then we’ve got a doubleheader in Baltimore. For how tempting it is to play the same guys every day and keep going and going, we have to be perfect because it takes one injury or one bad losing streak to start pushing these guys again.

“You start looking at us and we haven’t been healthy honestly the whole season. . . . It’s not easy. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a challenge, but so far, so good.”

If the only challenge the Sox have faced is a bit of the injury bug, which hasn’t yet hit any of their most important players longer than two weeks, a case could be made that they haven’t faced much adversity at all.

Cora said he actually thinks the Sox have been a bit lucky.

“Sometimes you face the No. 1 and No. 2 (pitcher) of teams every series,” Cora said. “And I think we’ve faced them but sometimes we don’t.”


Perhaps a little bad luck or a harsh losing streak to give this year’s Sox team a good test in August wouldn’t be the worst thing.

“Sometimes I’ll look at Baseball Reference, their expanded standings, seems like we’ve been lucky for their standards,” Cora said. “Oh well. Hey, I’ll take it.”

THERE WAS no hesitation in Cora’s voice, nor his decision: Eduardo Rodriguez will return to the starting rotation, not the bullpen.

Rodriguez threw a four-inning simulated game before Wednesday night’s loss and gave his injured right ankle a thorough test.

The next step will be a minor league rehab assignment beginning Monday with the Portland Sea Dogs.

If he can throw 75-80 pitches in Portland, he’ll likely be one rehab start away from returning to the big league rotation at the end of August, a quicker timeline than the Sox originally thought when Rodriguez suffered severe ligament damage July 14.


“I didn’t want to miss the time, but I just feel good that the injury didn’t take me out for the season and I’m going to be a able to come back and keep working,” he said.

Rodriguez had been rolling before his injury, tossing 17 scoreless innings spanning three starts. He gave up just 10 hits and four walks and struck out 16 in that stretch.

But the Red Sox aren’t exactly hurting for another starter right now. Brian Johnson replaced Drew Pomeranz in the rotation and has been on a roll, with a 3.21 ERA in eight starts this year. And the Sox acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays to add more depth behind Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price.

There was some thought the Sox might bring Rodriguez back as a reliever, particularly if he wasn’t going to have proper time to get stretched out before the end of the year. But his speedy timeline has made it an easier decision, even if that means the Sox will likely have to send Johnson back to the bullpen when Rodriguez returns.

IAN KINSLER was in the batter’s box Wednesday to face Rodriguez during the simulated game.

Kinsler, nursing a sore hamstring, was impressed with what he saw.


“He’s got good stuff, he looks healthy, he’s ready to go,” Kinsler said. “The ball was moving around today.”

The warm-up was good enough for Kinsler to feel like he didn’t need a rehab assignment before he returns from his injury. He’s scheduled to be activated Friday when the Sox face the Rays.

“It’s just patience,” he said. “Wait it out. There’s not much you can do. With a muscle injury you try to strengthen it and make sure everything around it is strong and take all the steps and wait for the muscle to heal and get back out there.”

Kinsler will slide back into his spot as the starting second baseman upon returning.

“With Ian, most likely he’ll play Friday, Saturday, and then Sunday off,” Cora said.

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