Alex Cora's plan for Kiké Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez to be Red Sox leaders

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John Tomase
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Tomase: Cora counting on Kiké, Marwin for more than versatility originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It's not often that two utility players joining a new team are almost immediately anointed clubhouse leaders, but Kiké Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez aren't normal utility players.

It's no exaggeration to say they're two of the most versatile players ever. Each has played all seven positions beyond the battery, and Hernandez has even pitched. Their veteran wisdom applies to every corner of the diamond.

But when Red Sox manager Alex Cora says that he "has plans" for each of them in the clubhouse, he's clearly talking about more than just what they do on the field. And in that sense, each brings an extensive resume to the table, too.

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Both are World Series champions, Hernandez with last year's Dodgers and Gonzalez as a member of Cora's 2017 Astros. Both have made an impact on the biggest stage, Hernandez with a three-homer mauling of the Cubs during the 2017 NLCS, and Gonzalez with a game-tying homer leading off the ninth against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2 of that year's World Series.

And perhaps most importantly, both have Cora's trust when it comes to playing the game the right way and navigating the different personalities that make up a clubhouse.

"Two of the new guys, they know me from before and they know the message from day one," Cora said recently. "Back then when Enrique saw me play, he knew about me and what I did in the clubhouse, so he understands that. And Marwin, we have experience together and he understands how I operate. I actually had a talk with them and the benefit of having these guys is the different set of eyes or a different voice, which is very important."

Hernandez was one of the driving forces behind the scenes on a number of star-studded Dodgers squads, with manager Dave Roberts saying he deserved consideration for team MVP during the 2018 playoffs. His personality is loose, as Cora relayed during a story about Hernandez pretending he couldn't speak English in the minors before shocking his manager with perfect fluency.

Gonzalez, by comparison, is intense and driven. He homered twice against the Red Sox during the 2018 ALCS, and Cora joked that Gonzalez never lets off the gas.

"I always tell Marwin that his biggest strength is his biggest weakness," Cora said. "He fights every pitch, which is awesome. But when you play against him it's like, 'Come on, man. Save it.' Like, from afar. But when you are on his team, you appreciate that."

Both are having excellent springs. Hernandez opened Friday's action hitting .462 with a home run and five walks, putting his best foot forward in the competition to become leadoff hitter. Gonzalez, meanwhile, is hitting .400 after homering from both sides of the plate in Thursday's victory over the Twins.

Considering that neither, for the most part, has posted monster numbers throughout their careers, this is an encouraging sign. For his part, Cora sounds positively giddy when pondering all the different ways he'll be able to use them. Each should play almost every day, with Hernandez starting at second base and probably seeing some time in the outfield, and Gonzalez capable of playing anywhere and everywhere, with first base a natural spot for him to complement starter Bobby Dalbec.

"To have Enrique and Marwin on the same team, just being creative, people talk about creative teams and how cool it is," Cora said. "Well, we have a cool team, too. There's a reason people consider them two of the best utility guys in the big leagues."

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Don't underestimate how battle-tested they are, either. Cora knows their World Series experience matters, and he's encouraged to see each of them, for instance, already talking defense with slugging third baseman Rafael Devers.

"Enrique's been with the Dodgers, for what, seven years, they made it to the playoffs all the time,' Cora said. "There's something about those guys and the experience of being with winners that they can add to the equation here. As you know, my expectations are the same as the fanbase, and it's to play in October and win a championship.

"Guys like that, when they talk in the clubhouse and they talk baseball it's loud and clear. Expectations are just like everybody else here, but coming from winning a World Series, sometimes they look up to you like, 'OK, what do we need to do to get back to that?'

"I gave (Hernandez) the green light, just like I did to Marwin in the clubhouse, just to speak up and help everybody out. . . . Whatever they have in their mind, they always come up to me and I tell them that's a good way to put it or I tell them not to do it. They know they have my support in anything they want to do in the clubhouse."