BALTIMORE — The Red Sox didn’t enjoy much from their first swing this season through Camden Yards, and before departing for a much-needed day off heading into a Fenway Park series against Anaheim, you can add the renovated outfield to their feelings.
“Brutal,” J.D. Martinez said. “I hate it.”
Before beginning this season-long 30th birthday celebration of the beloved downtown Baltimore stadium, the Orioles announced in January they’d be changing the dimensions, pushing the left-field wall back by 26½ feet as well as making it almost six feet taller. It’s a change that MLB.com calculated would result in about 50 fewer home runs annually; it likely cost Anthony Santander a grand slam during Baltimore’s big sixth inning Sunday, when his 378-foot shot to left was just a sacrifice fly.
According to ESPN park-factor calculations prior to Baltimore’s 9-5 victory Sunday, Camden Yards has gone from the easiest park to hit a home run in last season to the hardest this one.
“I think every hitter hates it,” said Martinez, whose ninth-inning grand slam went out to right, where the dimensions are unchanged. “It’s hard enough as it is and the dimensions before were proportional. I think every ballpark should be unique but within the dimensions, not this extreme thing to stop home runs. I don’t know what you’re trying to do with it, the reason. I know their hitters are not happy about it.
“It’s like center field. It’s bigger than center field.”
For manager Alex Cora, the effect on potential defensive gems was as big as the effect on home runs.
“One of the best moments I ever had here was Manny [Ramirez] making that catch [in 2008], high-fiving that fan, and then throwing to first base to get the double play,” Cora said. “Now you can’t do it. One of the beauties of this stadium was always the chance for the outfielders to rob homers because it’s a small wall. Now it’s going to be kind of hard. It’s different.”
Left fielder Alex Verdugo realized just how different when he watched Ryan Mountcastle’s Friday night blast clear the wall.
“After that home run, I stood on the wall and I was like, ‘I’m nowhere even near the top,’ ” he said. “There’s no chance of catching that. If you hit it over, even if it’s a wall-scraper, you’re not going to be able to get up there. It’s too high.”
Nick Pivetta better, but still not good enough
Starter Nick Pivetta fared better Sunday, facing the minimum number of batters through three innings. But the righthander ran into trouble in the fourth, was lifted after 4⅓ innings, and ultimately fell to 0-4 on the season.
Both he and Cora were encouraged by improvement with his fastball control, a big part in his issuing no walks.
“I felt good. It just came down to three hits, single, single, double, wasn’t able to make those pitches late,” Pivetta said. “It’s definitely disappointing, but you have to look at the micro. Focus on the things you’re doing right, what you can improve on, and get better each day. Look at the positive, try not to be too negative.”
Kevin Plawecki lends an arm
Catcher Kevin Plawecki gave his beleaguered bullpen a chance to rest going into the offday by pitching the eighth inning. Plawecki gave up just a leadoff hit before retiring the Baltimore side, an effort Cora appreciated even if he couldn’t really enjoy it.
“It’s not fun, to be honest with you, as a manager, it’s not good for the organization and the fan base,” Cora said. “It’s tough to do that, but you have to do that. We’re thinking about the next game, and taking care of guys and be ready for Tuesday at full force.
“At that point, you got to do what you need to do. Get three outs. It’s fun in a way, but it’s not fun.”
Plawecki was the first Sox position player to pitch since Aug. 6, 2021, when Jonathan Araúz took a turn on the mound. It was Plawecki’s seventh career appearance as a pitcher, including single games for the Sox in both 2020 and 2021.
Davis, Valdez optioned
With rosters being trimmed to 26 from 28 on Monday, outfielder Jaylin Davis and righthander Phillips Valdez were optioned to Triple A Worcester. Davis started in left field on Sunday and was 2 for 4, while Valdez was tagged for four runs coming out of the two-hour rain delay.
Travis Shaw, who was designated for assignment on Friday, was outrighted off the major league roster. He elected free agency.
Mixing up the deck
Cora shuffled his lineup for getaway day, reinserting Martinez at designated hitter and cleanup, giving the struggling Verdugo and Bobby Dalbec a day off while also sitting Christian Arroyo, who is nursing a slightly sore calf.
Martinez went 3-for-5, with singles in his first two at-bats and a grand slam to right in the ninth. Davis, batting ninth and playing left, was 2 for 4 in his first start for the Red Sox. Franchy Cordero got the start at first, committing an error in the fourth when he couldn’t handle the throw after a beautiful Rafael Devers scoop at third. He was 1-for-3, and did put the Sox ahead in the fifth with a sacrifice fly.
Cora talked this weekend about Devers’ improved defense this season, noting that the less he gets asked about it, the better the news is.
“We always thought he’d be a good defender. Just a matter of time,” Cora said. “A guy like that, when you get called up so early, there’s a lot of stuff you miss in player development. Reason he got here in ‘17 is because they needed offense. It wasn’t about the defense, but he provided offense. He’s understanding positioning. His internal clock is on point now. Last year he changed a few things in his routine . . . he’s put in work.
“He’s growing up in front of our eyes.”
Nate Eovaldi stepping up
The numbers on starter Nate Eovaldi continue to impress in the wake of his disappointing no-decision Saturday, when he took a no-hitter into the sixth and pitched seven scoreless innings, but the bullpen couldn’t protect (and the offense couldn’t build on) a 1-0 lead. In his last two outings, Eovaldi struck out 13, hasn’t allowed a walk, and allowed just two runs on 13 hits. Eovaldi is one of three AL pitchers to throw 7-plus innings twice this season, joining Justin Verlander and Brad Keller. He has not walked more than two batters in his last 24 outings, extending the longest starting streak of his career . . . When his team struggles the way it is, Cora often connects with old friends to pick their brains. He was recently texting with Carlos Delgado. “I like talking to him cause he has a different perspective,” Cora said. “This guy hit 475 home runs, but the mental side of it made him great. Carlos said it perfectly: Don’t be in a rush to make an out. What’s the point? If you get your pitch, great. But if you don’t, just take it. Keep the at-bat going and see what happens 3-1, 3-2, 2-0. We haven’t been able to do that.”