The news of the day at Fenway Park before Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays was Trevor Story being activated off the injured list after missing 37 games with a fractured bone in his right wrist.
More interesting over the long term was the decision to option Jarren Duran to Triple A Worcester.
The 25-year-old center fielder has hit an inflection point in his career. The Sox could have made another move to open a roster spot for Story but decided instead to send Duran back to Worcester with specific instructions on how to improve his game.
After nearly three months on the major league roster, this isn’t tough luck because of a roster crunch. It’s a demotion.
“He needs to play. He needs to go down there and play,” manager Alex Cora said. “There’s a few things he needs to do better offensively. I think he understands that.”
He certainly should. Duran hit .325 with an .832 OPS in his first 19 games this season. In the 38 games that followed he hit .155 with a .491 OPS and struck out 47 times in 135 plate appearances.
Opposing pitchers discovered quickly that Duran couldn’t handle changeups or sliders. The big swing that was so successful in the minors had holes big-league pitchers exploited.
For a player whose game hinges on speed, 18 walks and 103 strikeouts in 331 career plate appearances just doesn’t work.
“The on-base skills have to be better,” Cora said. “Control the strike zone, work counts, go the other way. There’s certain at-bats he needs to go the other way. That should be part of his game.”
Then there’s his defense.
Based on Defensive Runs Saved, Duran was one of the worst outfielders in the majors this season, having cost the Red Sox nine runs in center field. Only Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates, with 10, is worse and he has played 415⅔ more innings than Duran.
Duran was a second baseman at Long Beach State and converted to the outfield in 2018 after he was drafted. He has since started 334 games in center at all levels.
By now Duran should know what base to throw to and the importance of hitting the cutoff man.
So many good defensive plays start with knowing what the situation is before the pitch is thrown. That’s still something he’s learning.
“Decision-making is OK,” Cora said.
In manager-speak, “OK” is a synonym for “pretty bad.”
Sox coaches have worked with Duran on getting a better jump and taking a more direct route to fly balls. There has been improvement, but still work to do.
There’s a non-baseball component to this, too.
Duran lost a fly ball in the lights on July 22 that went for an inside-the-park grand slam as he stood and watched. When asked about the apparent lack of hustle, Duran told reporters he knew Alex Verdugo was backing up the play.
“Next time I know to take one or two steps,” he said dismissively.
Two weeks later, Duran lost a ball in the sun in Kansas City and argued with fans who jeered him. Teammates had to come over to calm him down.
Worcester’s season runs through Sept. 28, so Duran has a month to show the Sox he deserves another shot.
“He’s part of this,” Cora said. “At one point he’s going to be back and we do believe he’s going to contribute.”
How will that look? Cora envisions Duran being a player with a high on-base percentage who steals 30 bases, bunts for hits and puts pressure on the opposition.
“That’s the player we envision and he knows it,” the manager said.
Outside of Kiké Hernández, who will be a free agent after the season, the Sox don’t have another center fielder on the roster.
Ceddanne Rafaela, who seems to make a five-star play in center field every night for Double A Portland, turns 22 next month. His ETA is sometime in 2024.
This is Duran’s chance. At a time when MLB is working on rules changes that would get more speed and athleticism into the game, his abilities could be worth a lot to the Sox.
He’s a flawed player now. But when you watch him go first to third in a blur, you see the potential. Take the 30 steals Cora talks about and add 30 doubles and 100 runs scored and you have a player who can fuel a contending team.
It’s up to Duran what happens next.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.