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Sunday baseball notes

Ron Washington on infield shifts, the defense of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, and what his World Series ring means to him

Ron Washington joined the Braves as third base coach in 2017 and got a World Series ring last season.Harkim Wright Sr./Associated Press

Ron Washington has been in professional baseball every season since 1971 when he played for the Gulf Coast League Royals with Frank White.

“I was a catcher that year if you can believe that. Then they made an infielder,” Washington said.

Washington made it to the majors with the Dodgers in 1977 and finished his playing career in 1990. He became a minor league coach the following season and has been a coach or manager for 32 consecutive seasons, the last 27 at the major league level.

That includes eight years as manager of the Rangers. Washington led Texas to the World Series in 2010 and ‘11, losing both times. He resigned late in the 2014 season, admitting he had been unfaithful to his wife, Geraldine.


Washington joined the Braves as third base coach in 2017 and got a World Series ring last season.

A man known for his tutelage of infielders fielded a few questions before a game at Truist Park this past week.

Q: MLB is considering controlling infield shifts. As an infield coach, is that a good idea?

A: “I’ve got nothing against shifts. I think each team should be allowed to do what they want to do with their defense. It’s up to the player at the plate to make whatever adjustments have to be made because of what they see out there.

“There’s so much changing in this game. All I can say is I don’t want the league telling me how to set up my defense.”

Q: Do you like the way the game is played now?

A: “What you see now is everybody swinging at a launch angle. With runners on base or nobody out and a runner on second you see him sit there. Runner on third and less than two outs, you see him sit there. The mind-set is to elevate, not to play to the situation.


“You still see some teams play real baseball. But for the most part they try to outslug each other.”

Q: Who influenced you as a player?

A: “All my minor league managers. My A ball manager Steve Boros, my Triple A manager Del Crandall, they all had an influence on me. The Dodgers infield coach for a long time, Chico Fernandez, was great with me.

Plus the players I played with: Reggie Smith, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey. They’re all a part of me. I try to give back what was given to me.”

Q: What does your World Series ring mean to you?

A: “A lot. That’s what you play the game for. A lot of guys in this game who have given a lot to this game never get that opportunity. They may have gotten to the playoffs, but it’s different when you get there and win that ring.”

Ron Washington (right) has long been popular with his players, both as a manager more recently as a third base coach.Harkim Wright Sr./Associated Press

Q: What do you think of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers defensively?

A: “Devers is getting better. Bogaerts, I think, is showing a lot of improvement this year. He really is. They always can swing the bat. The only question with Devers was cleaning up his decision making in the field.

“At third base you do or you don’t, you will or you won’t. You either catch the ball or you don’t. He’s starting to catch the ball better. What I am seeing is improvement in his decision making. He’s still young. Defense is something you grow into. Very few of us come out of the womb good on defense. There’s a few out there. But the majority of them have to work at it. With defense you need to work.


“Devers is starting to learn how to play it, all the nuances. I like what I see from him.”

Q: How long do you want to keep coaching?

A: “As long as my mind is working. As long as I’m around a bunch of kids who want to get better. If I get around a bunch of kids who think they know everything, that’s when I’ll be out of the game. Fortunately I’ve been in organizations with players with good characters. That makes me want to keep pushing.

“I know a lot. But I want them to have something to say. You have to have a relationship to be a good teacher. You need that communication.”

Q: Do you have any particular memories of Fenway Park?

A: “I hit a big home run in that sucker one night. I hit a hit home run in the top of the 13th inning off Luis Aponte that won us the game. It was in 1983.

“I also remember my first time coming into Fenway Park [in 1982] and Carl Yastrzemski greeting me and welcoming me. He told me to play my game. That meant a lot to me. Carl Yastrzemski didn’t have to say anything to me. He was a class act. I’ll always remember that.”


Q: How can baseball get more Black managers? What has to happen?

A: “Just hire them. That’s a very tough question because there are a lot of people who are qualified. If you get the opportunity to get in that room, you have to win them over. You need to convince the general manager to convince the owner that you’re the best choice. But you can’t make anybody do it.

“I do think we need more Black managers in the game, but I can’t tell people who to hire. There’s still a hurdle to overcome, but they have a right to hire who they want to hire. They control that.”


Lack of bullpen upgrades a mistake

The bullpen has been a real problem for the Red Sox this season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Red Sox were two innings away from taking a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series last season before the bullpen blew up in Game 4 against the Astros.

You don’t get that close to the World Series by accident. The Sox had a good team that needed a few adjustments.

They addressed the rotation, working out a plan to make Garrett Whitlock a starter, and signing Rich Hill and Michael Wacha to provide innings. Signing James Paxton for what would be a second-half boost made sense, too,

Even without forever unavailable Chris Sale, the rotation has been solid. Sox starters went into the weekend sixth in the AL with a 3.44 ERA. It was 4.49 last season.

But Chaim Bloom didn’t finish the job by sufficiently improving the bullpen.


Knowing that Whitlock would go into the rotation and Matt Barnes was a question mark after his second-half collapse, the Sox needed more help than signing Jake Diekman and Matt Strahm, and taking another flier on Hansel Robles.

“A lot of people were waiting for something else to happen and it never did,” one AL executive said. “I was surprised.”

Now the Sox are stuck. Unless they get back into contention, trading for bullpen help makes little sense. Meanwhile, there’s still no closer and Alex Cora is trying to make a good hand out of a bunch of low cards.

Brad Boxberger, Mychal Givens, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Chris Martin, and Joe Smith are among the relievers who took affordable deals and are pitching well.

Given the uncertainty with Barnes, a pitcher with experience as a closer, such as Brad Hand, would have made a lot of sense. Or the Sox could have acted like a big-market contender and signed Kendall Graveman.

“We’re constantly assessing the decisions that we made and then the decisions that could be in front of us,” Bloom said recently. “We try to do the best we can with all the information we have. We constantly try to learn.”

The assessment so far on the bullpen is pretty simple: It’s not good enough.

A few other observations on the Red Sox:

▪ The Sox need to get better at building relationships with star players, something they botched with Mookie Betts and are in the process of botching with Xander Bogaerts.

So it was interesting to see the team produce a limited-edition cap for Rafael Devers that came out earlier this month.

It’s red with his nickname — Carita — across the front in white script with a Red Sox logo. His No. 11 is on one side and the Dominican flag is under the brim.

The Red Sox produced a limited-edition cap in honor of Rafael Devers, but aren't selling them publicly.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The cap is being worn by various people around the team. But, according to one staffer, there are no plans to make more for a public sale.

Why not? It’s a unique item and it’s hard to see any teammate being offended by Devers being singled out. Why not promote a star player? Make him feel valued and special.

▪ The chattering class has decided the Cardinals are a good fit for Bogaerts if the Sox give up on the season. St. Louis wants to win now and needs a shortstop, all true.

But if the Sox dump Bogaerts midseason — as opposed to trying their best to sign him — the idea that they’re Tampa Bay North will be impossible to shake.

▪ It’s not a surprise Trevor Story struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances through 26 games. From 2017 (his first full season) to 2021, Story struck out 735 times. Only Joey Gallo, with 809, had more.

The problem is Story is on pace for only 42 extra-base hits. He averaged 63 from 2017-21.

The notion that Story is somehow overwhelmed by playing in Boston is a reach. The Sox have played only 13 home games and the media contingent on the road has dwindled to three or four reporters.

Whatever external pressure that exists is minimal. As Cora noted, the first time a player changes teams can be difficult and it takes time to adjust.

But at this point, Story has had enough time.

▪ Congratulations to former Red Sox vice president of media relations John Blake for being selected to the Rangers Hall of Fame. Outside of his stint with the Sox from 2006-08, Blake has been with the Rangers since 1984.

▪ Former Red Sox pitching coach John Cumberland died in Florida last month. He was 74. The Maine native pitched in the majors from 1968-74. He started coaching in 1982 with the Mets and was with the Sox from 1995-2001.

Cumberland was pitching coach for three months in 1995 and bullpen coach under Jimy Williams from 1999-2001. Williams was fired with 43 games left in the 2001 season and Cumberland was pitching coach under Joe Kerrigan for 19 days before their differences became intractable.


Manfred slows down on robot umpires

Major League Baseball isn't planning to implement automated ball-strike systems for 2023.Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

Looks like we’ll have to suffer the curious decisions of Angel Hernandez a while longer.

During a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors in Manhattan, commissioner Rob Manfred said the automated ball-strike system isn’t on the agenda for the 2023 season.

“I think it’s got a little more of a delay in front of it. There’s just only so many changes you’re going to make in one year,” he said a few days before the terrible call in the Red Sox-Braves game on Wednesday.

The league is contemplating two systems. One would have every pitch called by the tracker via an earpiece with the home plate umpire. The second would be to give each team a certain number of challenges to overrule the umpire.

That’s being tried out in some Florida State League Games this season. Each team has three challenges. If the call is overturned, they keep the challenge.

Understandably, umpires don’t want to lose the ability to call balls and strikes. But can you imagine a playoff game or Game 7 of the World Series being decided by a challenge on whether a pitch was a strike or ball?

There is little doubt a pitch clock is coming soon, perhaps next season.

“I think the reviews in the minor leagues have been really positive,” said Manfred, who is an advocate of clocks.

“Twenty-plus-minute reductions in game time. Actually [having] an effect on the way the game is played in terms of more balls in play and more action in the game.

“And maybe most important, we’re down to I think it’s less than one violation a game, and what’s that show you? When you have great athletes like we have, you change something, they adjust. They get used to it, and they move on.”

Extra bases

Christian Yelich hit for the cycle on Wednesday for the third time in his career.Emilee Chinn/Getty

Did you know that no player has ever hit for the cycle four times? Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich has a chance, having hit for his third cycle on Wednesday against the Reds. Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner has three. Adrián Beltré, Babe Herman, and Bob Meusel also had three … Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo won his 354th game on Tuesday, a franchise record. Arizona has had eight managers since 1998. Only Buck Showalter and Bob Brenly are over .500 … Angels rookie Chad Wallach joined Alex Avilla, David Ross, and Jason Varitek as the only players to catch a no-hitter and hit a home run in the same game. Varitek was the first in 2008, when he caught Jon Lester’s gem against the Royals and homered off Luke Hochevar. Wallach did it in his second game for the Angels. He is the son of five-time All-Star Tim Wallach … At 6 feet 11 inches, Giants reliever Sean Hjelle is taller than any of the Golden State Warriors. The tallest Red Sox player is 6-6 Michael Wacha. Six of the Celtics have him beat … Manny Machado’s .841 OPS from 2017-21 was 37th highest in the majors. At 29, he’s having his best season in years, hitting .383 with a 1.085 OPS going into the weekend. Machado gets pitched to carefully and makes the most of what he gets … Sean Casey recently had Curt Schilling as a guest on his podcast “The Mayor’s Office.” It was an entertaining conversation, especially Schilling explaining his approach to preparing for his starts. Schilling also used the platform to attack Hall of Fame voters and Red Sox ownership, which is a tired act at this point … As an addendum to the note last week about how many times Willie Mays played at Fenway Park, Ken Avery e-mailed to mention that Mays also played an exhibition game at Fenway on June 25, 1952, to benefit wounded servicemen. The game drew 25,237 … Happy birthday to former Red Sox pitchers John Smoltz (55) and Josh Beckett (42), and current left fielder Alex Verdugo (26). Smoltz is on the list of Hall of Famers who had one-season cameos with the Red Sox. That august group includes Orlando Cepeda, Rickey Henderson, Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, and Al Simmons. Smoltz was recovering from shoulder surgery when the Sox signed him on Jan. 12, 2009. He appeared in six minor league games then made eight starts for the Sox from June 25 to Aug. 6. Smoltz was 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA and was released after he refused to pitch out of the bullpen.

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.