BOSTON (CBS) — Alex Cora was a happy man on Thursday. He’s back in baseball, once again the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Cora had to spend last year away from the game, suspended for his role in the 2017 Houston Astros cheating scandal. Now he’s back in Fort Myers, Florida, running the show at Red Sox Spring Training.

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“It was fun. Just to be around the guys, it was a great day,” Cora told reporters after Red Sox pitchers and catches wrapped up their first day of workouts. “I was out of the game for the wrong reasons — and rightfully so. Today was an outstanding day on a personal level, and for the organization, it was pretty solid.”

Cora won’t hide from his past, and his year away gives him a whole new level of appreciation for his opportunity as major league manager.

“It was fun to drive here the last few days, fun to tell the family I’m working and fun to be around players, with the Boston Red Sox. It’s fun to be back in baseball and I missed the game,” he said. “I’ve been around since I was four years old. I watched from afar last year, but it’s not the same feeling. I’m glad that ownership and the front office and the Boston Red Sox trust me and that I’m here managing this team.”

Cora said that he felt the same way Thursday that he felt when he arrived in 2018 for his first spring with the Red Sox.

“Being away from the game, I don’t have to explain how much I love the game and how passionate I am about it. But at the same time, coming here – and it’s not about me. It’s about seeing guys and working with them and going to the field,” he said. “When the practice is over you sit at your desk and feel you gave everything. I’ll take off my hat and say ‘we accomplished a lot today.’ That’s how I attack every day.

“I’m going to do it the same way I did it in 2018 and 2019; confident and with conviction,” he added.

Now, to some notes from Cora’s marathon Zoom session after Thursday’s workout.

Housekeeping

Cora said there were 20 bullpen sessions and some pitcher fielding drills on Thursday. Just about everyone is already in camp, though Ryan Brasier hasn’t arrived as he deals with a personal matter. The reliever is expected to arrive sometime in next few days.

Newly acquired reliever Hirokazu Sawamura isn’t in camp yet either as he is dealing with visa issues, so his arrival is TBD.

As for the players who are there, Cora said that he’s done a lot of catching up over the last few days. Though sometimes, he’s not even sure who he’s catching up with.

“A lot of people I’m trying to meet and recognize,” said Cora. “It’s hard with the masks. We’ve talked about putting those nametags — ‘Hello My Name Is” — on the masks.”

E-Rod Looking Good

Eduardo Rodriguez missed all of last season due to complications from COVID-19, but he threw a bullpen on Wednesday and participated in drills on Thursday. Cora says the lefty is a “full go” in camp.

“He was trying to trick me that he can’t run, but Eddie likes Instagram a lot and I saw him running in Miami against J.D. [Martinez] 10 days ago. No excuses there,” Cora joked. “He’s a full go, in good spirit and looks like he’s in great shape. He worked hard this offseason to get to this point and I’m very excited to have a full season of Eddie and see what he can do. We got a taste in 2019; I expect the same thing [this season].”

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No Timeline On Sale’s Return

Chris Sale discussed his comeback from Tommy John surgery before Cora spoke with reporters, and the Boston skipper reiterated that there’s no timeframe for Sale’s return to the mound. But he did say that Sale is in great spirits and is taking part in everything that he’s allowed to do.

“He wanted to be part of pitching infield at practice, and that’s a good step. I do believe with the whole group around, it’s going to help him,” Cora said. “It’s not easy going through a rehab. He’s a guy who throughout his career all he’s done is compete at this level, and all of a sudden he can’t do it. To see with him bouncing around today was a huge step. Happy we’re back together.”

Structured Bullpen

One area this year’s team has to improve — and should improve — is the bullpen. The Boston pen was near the bottom of the barrel in 2020, but there are a lot of promising arms for Cora to utilize this year.

He wouldn’t name a closer, since he wants to see how things shake out during camp, but Cora said he would have a structured bullpen when the season begins.

“We have a lot of candidates,” Cora said of a potential closer. “Guys in the bullpen that can get three outs in the seventh, eighth or ninth. We’ll see how it goes in Spring Training, talk to the guys and then make the decision.

“You know how I feel about bouncing guys all over. It’s not fair to them physically,” he said. “I like a structured bullpen, so when we get to the point of making an announcement, we’ll get there.”

Sox Can Compete In 2021

After a depressing 2020 season, Cora believes the team can contend again in 2021.

“This is a good baseball team, a team that is very versatile, dynamic and has a bunch of good athletes. Not only with position players but our pitching staff. Sinkers, cutters, sliders, curves, fastballs up, fastballs down, changeups — we’re not one-dimensional,” he said. “We have a good pitching staff and I’m very excited about what the organization has done since I got back in December.

“We have a good team and we have a chance to play in October,” he echoed.

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Whether they can win in October is yet to be determined. But Cora sounds confident that the Red Sox will be in the mix throughout the season.

CBSBoston.com Staff