PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For some, the sight of a robin serves as a true harbinger of spring.
Alex Cora, however, has a different cue.
When Cora can pencil in the name of one of his veteran starters on the lineup card -- as he did Sunday morning when he wrote out Rick Porcello's name for the starting assignment against the Tampa Bay Rays -- he knows spring is closer than ever.
Cora presides over one of the game's most talented -- if not the most talented -- starting rotations. Two of his starters have won Cy Young Awards (Porcello and David Price) and a third (Chris Sale) has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in each of the last five seasons.
The rotation is filled out by Nathan Eovaldi, who has yet to fully realize his considerable potential because of injuries but is now healthy and, based on his half season with the Red Sox last year, ready for a breakout year. Eduardo Rodriguez, with an embarrassment of riches in his pitching arsenal, may yet make good on his promise.
Sunday marked the first start by a non-Rodriguez starter this spring after the Red Sox dutifully held out the more established pitchers in recognition of the workload they shouldered deep into last October, both as starters and as late-inning "rovers'' out of the bullpen.
For the first 15 games, Cora had watched a parade of starters (Rodriguez notwithstanding) who will soon be ticketed for Pawtucket or Portland. On Sunday, with Porcello on the mound -- and Sale, Price and Eovaldi to follow over the next three days -- a sense of normalcy has returned to the Sox.