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Alex Cora opens up about mental health after Chris Martin goes on injured list with anxiety

Boston Herald - 6/5/2024

The Red Sox placed Chris Martin on the 15-day injured list Wednesday (retroactive to June 2) due to anxiety.

“A couple things that are important to get across: No. 1 I think we applaud Chris’ willingness to speak up and confront this challenge head-on,” chief baseball officer Craig Breslow said Wednesday morning. “As an organization, we fully support that, and have a bunch of resources here, including a behavioral health program that’s intended to help players and staff address situations like this.”

Martin, 38, last pitched on May 30 when the Detroit Tigers were at Fenway. The right-hander didn’t look like his usually-dominant self, allowing three earned runs on four hits – including a pair of homers – in the eighth inning.

“He kind of brought this up over the weekend,” Breslow explained. “He felt like it was manifesting in some physical ways that were keeping him from competing at the level that he’s used to, in terms of fatigue, and energy, and recovery, and sleep, and some of those types of things.”

Martin signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox last offseason, and quickly emerged as the best setup-man the Boston bullpen has seen in years, posting a 1.05 ERA over 55 outings. But through 21 appearances totaling 21.1 innings this season, he owns a 4.22 ERA.

To fill his spot on the active roster, the club recalled fellow right-hander Zack Kelly from Triple-A Worcester. However, while Martin won’t travel to Chicago for the team’s four-game series with the White Sox, the current plan is for him to remain in Boston and be around the team, Breslow said.

“This is a situation where he feels like he’s close, he’s still interested in kind of the physical activity that’s going to prepare him to be ready when he comes off, and not the type of situation where he feels like he needs to step away immediately or indefinitely, but these are tricky, right? I’m not a medical expert,” the executive, who deferred medical school several times throughout his own pitching career. “I don’t think it would be fair for me to predict exactly how it will play out, outside of saying he’s comfortable speaking about this. He brought this up to us, and he feels like even in just a short amount of time, he’s made significant progress.”

Mental health has been an increasingly-frequent topic of conversation around professional sports in recent years. And as more athletes open up, they create an environment in which their peers feel safer doing the same.

“I think, across the league, baseball and a number of teams, and sports generally have done a pretty good job of destigmatizing these types of situations over the last few years,” Breslow concurred.

It’s certainly a different world than the one in which he and Alex Cora played, not too long ago.

“It’s hard to know whether that stigma was driven by just kind of the clubhouse culture or the lack of resources that existed, but they probably go hand-in-hand, right?” Breslow posited. “I do think players accept it from their peers in a far different way. I think the staff is far more open to realizing that this is something that can affect our players, and I think broadly, fans and the media understand now that the demands of a baseball season, the demands of a professional season in any sport, can at times be overwhelming, and it’s really important that we have resources in place to help our guys.”

Cora said he didn’t want to delve into Martin’s situation “out of respect.” Instead, he opened up about his own: how he used to torture himself after a bad game and the toll it took on his family.

“We feel the pressure of a lot of things, and sometimes we swallow our pride or we swallow our problems, and we’re not open about it,” the Red Sox manager said. “Shoot, man. I can tell you from my experience – and maybe that didn’t help me, obviously – I remember playing the game, going 0-for-4, going to the apartment, turn on the tv at midnight, watch the game again, and I was gonna go 0-for-4 again. And then in the morning, watch the game again and go 0-for-4 again.

“I feel like at that time, and at that moment, the family suffered, suffered a lot. As you guys know, Camila is the daughter of divorced parents, and probably early in my career, I didn’t help my family to be as strong as it should be, because there was a lot of demons, a lot of stuff going on in between the lines, in the clubhouse, and out of baseball. So that’s why I tip my hat to her mom, Nilda, because she did an outstanding job after we separated. We got a great daughter, and a daughter that, she’s gonna kill it in the world because she’s very strong, she has strong parents, and we’ve been very honest about our situation, what we need to do for her to succeed.”

“He’s gonna be okay,” Cora said of Martin. “Whenever he’s ready, he’s ready… We don’t know if it’s short-term, long-term, we never know. We don’t know about this, but I think with the team that’s gonna surround him, he’s gonna be okay.”

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