Boston’s Justin Turner reacts after being hit in the face on a pitch by Detroit starter Matt Manning in the first inning of Monday’s spring training baseball game in Fort Myers, Fla. Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora arrived in southwest Florida last month believing his organization had increased the depth of his roster.

It didn’t take long for that depth to be tested.

There have been several injuries suffered by Sox players in the past week, none more gruesome than Justin Turner getting hit in the face from a pitch by Detroit’s Matt Manning on Monday. It was a scary moment, and a reminder of how quickly a team needs to dig into the deeper end of the roster.

The 38-year-old Turner fell to the ground after getting hit. Medical personnel rushed to the plate, and Turner was bleeding and had a towel on his face as he walked off the field.

Turner’s wife, Kourtney, posted to Instagram that the infielder had “16 stitches and a lot of swelling but we are thanking God for no fractures & clear scans.”

Three other players were already on the sidelines with hamstring issues. Pitcher James Paxton, catcher Conner Wong and infielder Wilyer Abreu were all shut down after suffering injuries. Paxton and Wong were said to have Grade 1 (least serious) strains, but Abreu, who hit 19 homers and stole 31 bases in 129 games at the Double-A level last year, will be “out for a while” according to Cora.


Things can change over the course of spring training. Paxton hit 94.7 mph with his fastball and retired the first five batters he faced in his Grapefruit League debut against the Twins on Friday. His velocity and command impressed Cora, but he never got to finish his second inning of work after feeling his hamstring tighten.

The diagnosis was good, but it’s now unlikely Paxton will be ready for the regular season. And it’s fair to question whether a 34-year old who has thrown just 21 2/3 innings over the last three years will continue to have physical setbacks.

That was the concern about this pitching staff coming in. Depth is important but if your pitchers can’t stay healthy it doesn’t matter how many arms you have. That’s why Monday’s game at JetBlue Park represented a huge step forward for the team. Chris Sale made his long-awaited debut in a game, going two scoreless innings against the Tigers.

It was noteworthy that Jorge Alfaro, a veteran of six major league seasons who signed a minor-league free agent contract with Boston during the offseason, was behind the plate to catch Sale. With Wong suffering a setback, the opportunity is there for Alfaro to make the roster out of camp.

Alfaro was once one of the top catching prospects in the game and has 47 home runs in 478 big-league games. He’s got the kind of power that can impact a team, but his defensive work has always been in question. That’s why he’s been working daily with Jason Varitek to improve his blocking skills behind the plate.

“We’re very pleased with the way he’s catching, the way he’s moving,” said Cora. “He’s a good athlete, man. You saw him running the bases.”


The Red Sox will lose him later this week, but not to an injury. He’ll join Colombia for the World Baseball Classic, where he will play multiple positions. That versatility only increases his chance of making the Red Sox roster.

When Alfaro settled in to catch Sale on Monday the Sox were the only unbeaten team in spring training. They remained unbeaten with a 7-1 win over the Tigers. As my NESN partner Kevin Youkilis put it, “that means absolutely nothing.”

Neither did Sale’s first appearance of the spring. It was good to see … but his health is far more important.

Things happen quickly in the preseason, and not just because of the new pitch clock that has everyone buzzing this year. The Red Sox pack up and head north in just over three weeks, with Opening Day scheduled for March 30 at Fenway Park.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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