LAKELAND, Fla. — Bobby Dalbec has made three big league appearances at shortstop, a product of roster-driven necessity.
“It was for an emergency,” said Dalbec.
But if the 27-year-old – who at 6 feet 4 inches is the tallest player to handle short for the Sox ― is to forge a place in the big leagues this year, appearances at the position may start coming by design.
Barring injury, the Red Sox’ starting infield is set with Rafael Devers at third, Kiké Hernández at short, Christian Arroyo at second, and Triston Casas at first. J ustin Turner will split time between the corner infield spots and DH.
That alignment likely leaves a bench vacancy for a backup infielder who can offer middle infield depth, preferably with additional ability at the corners. With that in mind, Dalbec — who took all his offseason groundballs at short and third — got a start at shortstop against the Tigers on Tuesday.
He played well, initiating a 6-4-3 double play and making a good play coming in on a grounder. Dalbec will get another start at short on Wednesday.
“I think I can be a good shortstop, not just a tall one,” he said.
Fulfilling that claim may prove pivotal to a big league roster spot.
“Versatility is important for him,” manager Alex Cora said. “I think he’s a plus defender. The more we can expose him at short, second if we have a chance, we’ll do that.”
The Red Sox have three remaining middle infielders in camp who are on their 40-man roster: Dalbec and Yu Chang, who is on his way back from excelling in the World Baseball Classic for Chinese Taipei.
So what would the Sox like in a backup?
“In a perfect world, a lefthanded hitter up the middle to complement Kiké and Christian, but we don’t live in a perfect world,” said Cora.
Enmanuel Valdez , who was optioned after the game, is lefthanded, but he’s also inexperienced (82 games in Triple A, none in the big leagues) and limited to second, where his defense is generally graded as below-average.
“Valdez still needs some seasoning, quote-unquote, to get better defensively and offensively, but you can’t rule him out,” said Cora.
Chang may have the inside track, since unlike Dalbec, he can’t be optioned to the minors without being exposed to waivers. Still, Dalbec is using camp to make his case for a roster spot, and playing shortstop is a step in that direction.
“I love it. It’s fun,” said Dalbec, hitting .310/.375/.552 this spring. “I’m trying to create more value by playing high-quality defense anywhere.
“I think I have a lot of value,” he added. “Obviously it’s tough when you’re not playing consistently for everyone, but I worked hard this offseason to have a good routine where I feel like I can be prepared for playing every day, every two days, every five days. I think they know I’m ready to do that and play my way into the lineup.”
Refsnyder in the swing
Rob Refsnyder had been 0 for 21 this spring before he lifted a Michael Lorenzen pitch over the right-field fence at Joker Marchant Stadium for a homer on Tuesday. Yet despite the slump, Refsnyder’s roster role is secure.
Last year, he proved to the Sox he can crush lefties (.359/.411/.594) and play quality outfield defense at three spots.
“We’ll find a way [to get him in the lineup],” said Cora. “We’ll protect [Casas against lefties]. We’ll protect [ Masataka ] Yoshida . We’ll protect [ Alex Verdugo ]. And we’ll find at-bats for him.”
For Refsnyder, who has made a career of spring roster spot battles as a non-roster invitee, being on a 40-man roster and having a secure big league job regardless of his spring performance is novel.
“For non-roster guys, spring training is six weeks of anxiety and stress,” said Refsnyder. “It’s super humbling [to be told you have a role]. It makes you want to work hard and be ready.”
Lefthander Chris Murphy was optioned to Triple A Worcester, with the Sox wanting him to focus on throwing strikes and attacking hitters. Lefthander Oddanier Mosqueda and righthander Chase Shugart were reassigned to minor league camp.
The Sox were impressed by Valdez’s plate discipline and approach, but want him to get more Triple A experience and to polish his defense. Murphy can emerge as a starting depth option if he throws more strikes.
Cora said that middle infielder David Hamilton , optioned on Monday to Worcester, will be encouraged to work on his bunting game to take advantage of his elite speed.
Cora also praised the standout defense in center of Ceddanne Rafaela , who was optioned to Triple A on Monday, and noted that the highly regarded Sox prospect is still working to find balance in his offensive approach.
“All the talk about controlling the strike zone, I think the strike zone controlled him for a little bit here,” Cora said of Rafaela. “We want him to be aggressive. Learn how to control being aggressive.”
Jansen takes a step
In Fort Myers, Kenley Jansen faced six hitters, striking out four and throwing 20 pitches.
“I was satisfied because I threw quality pitches and didn’t take anything for granted,” said Jansen. “It doesn’t matter to me if it’s 50,000 fans or zero fans, for me to be on the backfields and have the same commitment, that’s the reward.”
Jansen at one point missed badly with a pitch, shouted out an expletive, then threw seven consecutive strikes. It was a dominant performance.
Ryan Brasier also pitched an inning after missing a scheduled Monday appearance because he was up much of the previous night with a sick child.
Brayan Bello is set to pitch two simulated innings against hitters on Wednesday, his final hurdle to get into a game. The righthander was shut down for a week earlier in camp with forearm soreness.
Ryan Fitzgerald resumed workouts after missing recent days of camp because of illness.
Around the world
Devers went 1 for 3 with a run as the DH in the Dominican Republic’s 10-0 rout of Israel in the WBC. Red Sox minor leaguer Rio Gomez threw 1⅓ scoreless innings for Colombia is a 5-0 loss to Canada.
Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Fort Myers, Fla.