Knee issue might allow Red Sox to 'hold out' Eduardo Rodriguez from WBC

BOSTON -- In the end, the Boston Red Sox might be relieved that Eduardo Rodriguez got injured in winter ball.

Rodriguez is expected to come to Boston within the next week to have his right knee checked by team doctors after slipping on a wet mound while pitching in Venezuela last month. And although the Red Sox continue to claim the issue isn't serious -- team officials are still referring to it as a "tweak" -- it might be enough to keep Rodriguez from missing part of spring training to pitch in the World Baseball Classic.

"Given what transpired in the last start in Venezuela, we would likely hold him out until we determine he’s physically [ready], no issues and no questions about his knee," manager John Farrell said Thursday before the 78th annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner.

Rodriguez's 2016 season was delayed -- and nearly derailed -- by a right knee injury sustained in spring training. The 23-year-old lefty didn't make his first start until May 31 and changed his mechanics to compensate for the injury, which landed him back in Triple-A with an 8.59 ERA at the All-Star break.

Although Rodriguez rebounded with a 3.24 ERA over his final 14 starts, the Red Sox surely would prefer that he not risk another spring training injury by pitching in the WBC for his native Venezuela. Major League Baseball expects teams to support players who want to compete in the tournament, but a pre-existing injury would be cause to hold a player back.

Rodriguez is expected to compete with knuckleballer Steven Wright and lefty Drew Pomeranz for the final two spots in the Red Sox's starting rotation. Co-aces Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale already have said they don't intend to pitch in the WBC.

Farrell also said catcher Sandy Leon has decided not to play for Venezuela in the WBC. As the incumbent, Leon is the leading candidate to be the Red Sox's Opening Day catcher, although he faces stiff competition from youngsters Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.

With Leon out and Rodriguez a maybe, shortstop Xander Bogaerts (Netherlands) and first baseman Hanley Ramirez (Dominican Republic) are the only Red Sox players who are committed to playing in the WBC, with Bogaerts preparing to possibly play third base in the tournament.

Although Farrell said third baseman Pablo Sandoval is considering playing for Venezuela, his participation is a long shot. Sandoval is coming off shoulder surgery last May and must win the third-base job from utility man Brock Holt in spring training.

"The potential of [missing] those three weeks in a situation where you’re competing for a job is important,” Farrell said. “We don’t want to stand in a player’s way if there’s not a pending health situation. Granted, he went through a shoulder surgery last May. Still, that would be in discussion if that were to come up."