FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta won’t pitch for Canada in next month’s World Baseball Classic due to a slow recovery from a bout with COVID-19.

Pivetta was on Canada’s final roster for the tournament but made the decision to pull out after consulting with Red Sox officials in recent days. The right-hander had COVID earlier this month, causing his throwing program to be interrupted. He has had trouble recovering after throwing in recent days.

“His recovery has been slow,” said Manager Alex Cora. “He has been able to do stuff but not at the pace he was before.”

Pivetta is still expected to be ready for the start of the season in late March. Because he was supposed to pitch in the WBC, he ramped up earlier than normal over the winter and was ahead of the club’s other pitchers before getting sick.

“He was supposed to pitch two or three innings over the weekend,” Cora said. “Now, he’ll be here the whole time. We’ll see how it goes in the upcoming days but he should be fine.”

Pivetta, a Victoria native, pitched for Canada in the last installment of the WBC in 2017, the year he made his major league debut.


STARTING TIMES: Earlier this week the Detroit Tigers became the latest MLB team to announce it will move up most weekday night starts from 7:10 to 6:40 p.m. The Tigers join a growing list of clubs who have embraced earlier start times, a group that also includes the Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins, among others.

One club you won’t find on that list, however, is the Boston Red Sox.

If there was any team in baseball for whom earlier starts would make sense on paper, it’s Boston. The Red Sox have famously boasted some of the longest average game times in MLB over the past two decades, with games frequently stretching deep into the night past 10:30 or later.

While the Red Sox have explored changing their default weekday start times, club CEO Sam Kennedy said that with MLB’s new pace of play rules set to take effect the organization ultimately concluded sticking with the traditional 7:10 start was best.

“We prefer as many traditional games as we can for night time starts in the 7 p.m. hour,” Kennedy said. “Obviously we have city concerns and traffic concerns and the ingress and egress out of Fenway Park, it’s better for television, it’s better for the certainty of play. That said we are open minded about adjusting start times and I think you will see some different start times but generally with the rule changes that are going to pick up the pace of the game I think the 7 p.m. window is the right time to start night games.”

One of the reasons clubs are moving up start times is to accommodate a game that has grown slower and longer since the start of the 21st century. In 1999 the average length of an MLB game was 2:57. Last season it was 3:06, which itself was down from an all-time high of 3:11 in 2021.


With games taking so much longer to finish it’s become tougher for fans to see them through to the end, especially fans who have to be up early for work or school the next morning. The problem has been particularly acute for the Red Sox, whose games have averaged no lower than fourth-longest in baseball since 2003. The club has boasted the longest average game time in 10 of the last 20 seasons, and it has ranked second in another six, including last year.

Kennedy said he understands how difficult that’s been for fans, but he’s hopeful the introduction of the pitch clock could effectively solve the problem without any of the logistical downsides starting games earlier would present.

“It’s hard for me to stay up sometimes with the pace of the games that we’ve had!” Kennedy said. “It’s hard for everyone, kids have to go to school, people have to go to work the next day, so I think these new rule changes are going to be extraordinary.”

“I’m especially excited about the pitch timer. Not to put a timer on the game but to eliminate that downtime, that dead time,” Kennedy continued. “We’ve experimented in the minor leagues and we’ve seen as much as 20-25 minutes of dead time taken out of games. I won’t predict those will be identical results at the major league level, but if we can eliminate some of the dead time in the games and have games played in a crisper fashion, more offense, more balls in play with some of the other rules, I think you’re going to see baseball return to the best form of itself and I’m really excited about these changes for the game.”

Kennedy added that they will move up some starts on days where it makes sense competitively, particularly on getaway days ahead of long trips. But for the average summer weeknight, he’s hopeful the rule changes will allow the Red Sox to hit that sweet spot where fans can make it to the park on time, enjoy the game and be on their way home before 10 p.m.

And better yet, they might not have to change anything on their end to do it.


ONLY TWO days into full-squad spring training, Ceddanne Rafaela is already getting rave reviews from the big-league manager.

“The defense is THAT good in center field,” Alex Cora said on Tuesday, calling the top prospect not just a plus-defender, but “Plus plus.”

The 22-year-old infielder stole 28 bases and hit 21 home runs between High- and Double-A, but what really put him on the map was that he moved to the outfield and became a defensive highlight reel. In 71 games with the Sea Dogs, Rafaela hit .278 with 12 homers, 50 RBI and 14 stolen bases.

Rafaela will still get some work in at shortstop this spring, but Cora reiterated that he’s going to spend most of his time in the outfield. The manager praised him for spending the offseason working on plate discipline.

Count Cora among those who can’t wait to see Rafaela heavily featured in spring training games while many of the big-league players are in the World Baseball Classic.

“I’m excited for him,” the manager said.


TANNER HOUCK threw live batting practice to Kiké Hernández, Masataka Yoshida, and Adam Duvall, with Reese McGuire catching, on Tuesday.

Houck, who debuted as a starter in 2020, worked primarily as a reliever last season, in part due to the unreliability of the team’s bullpen. The 26-year-old righty only made four starts, all before the middle of May. Over 28 relief appearances totaling 43 1/3 innings, he posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.131 WHIP, with 43 strikeouts and 15 walks. Whereas he allowed eight earned runs in 16 2/3 innings as a starter, he only allowed 13 earned runs in relief.

This spring, the Red Sox are building their 2017 first-round pick up like a starting pitcher, even though he seems headed for the bullpen. “As many innings as possible,” Cora said of Houck. “If he is in the bullpen, he’ll go multiple innings — like I said, we’ll see what we want, but we have to maximize him.”

The idea is that Houck can be a long reliever, throwing multiple innings in one appearance so as to ease the burden on the starting rotation as well as other relievers.

It would also keep him in good shape to start a game, if need be. That’s what he’d prefer to be doing.

BATTING PRACTICE took a scary turn on Tuesday when Bobby Dalbec hit a ball over the fence, accidentally striking a boy in the stomach.


After EMTs came to evaluate the boy, he was able to meet Dalbec, who posed for photos with him and gave him a signed ball.

THE RED SOX added Elih Marrero, son of MLB catcher Eli Marrero, to their spring training roster as a non-roster invitee.

Marrero is one of several catchers the Red Sox are evaluating this season. describes the 25-year-old as having “no power potential,” but athletic for a catcher, with “potential above-average defensive profile.” He also offers some speed; over the last two seasons, he’s stolen 32 bases in 136 games.

Originally drafted by the organization in the eighth round of the 2018 draft, Marrero spent the 2022 season with Double-A Portland. In 79 games, he collected 51 hits, 10 doubles, two home runs, scored 32 runs (as many as he did in 57 games with High-A Greenville the year before.

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