There must be moments when Rafael Devers feels a lot older than 26. This is already his seventh season in the majors and he’s the only position player remaining from the 2018 Red Sox.
Devers is a remnant from the days when the lineup was loaded with All-Stars and the only goal was a parade.
That team was so stacked, Devers hit seventh in the final game of the World Series against the Dodgers. He was playing third base when Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado with a nasty slider for the final out.
Five years later, so much has changed. Devers batted cleanup for the Sox against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night surrounded by players comparatively new to the team. The friends and mentors he had as a rookie are all playing elsewhere.
But Devers laughed about the idea of feeling old after belting a home run to help the Sox to a 5-3 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 36,680 at Fenway.
“I’m not old, bro,” Devers said. “I still feel like I did when I first got called up. I’m the same guy.”
As a hitter, Devers has clearly matured. He has six home runs this season, three the other way to left field, two pulled to right field, and the other to center.
His power stretches from one foul pole to the other, and it’s coming at a time when he’s not getting a lot of protection in the lineup with Adam Duvall on the injured list with a fractured wrist.
Devers struck out swinging at three pitches from rookie Taj Bradley in his first at-bat at Tampa Bay on Tuesday and came back to the dugout angry about his lack of patience at the plate.
The third pitch was well above the strike zone and Devers swung through it.
“Too anxious. I was mad at myself. I was swinging at bad pitches,” Devers said in an interview conducted in English. “The Rays were pitching me different, more off-speed, and I had to adjust.”
In the three games since, Devers has walked twice, homered twice, and hit three line drives that were caught.
“He’s been slowing down, taking pitches. That’s what he needs to do,” manager Alex Cora said. “Obviously our offense is around him. [We] try to put pressure on [the opposition] when he comes up with men on.
“At the same time, when he’s the guy, you have to be patient. Take a walk and keep the line moving. Hopefully the rest of the guys start swinging the bat.”
Devers joined David Ortiz (2006), Hit Dog Mo Vaughn (1995), Fred Lynn (1979), Carl Yastrzemski (1974), and Vern Stephens (1949) as the only Sox players with six or more home runs in the first 14 games of a season.
That’s outstanding company, but the home runs don’t tell the whole story. For the season, Devers’s exit velocity, percentage of hard-hit balls, and percentage of balls hit on the barrel of the bat are all in the top eight percent of the league.
He’s hitting .283 with a 1.012 OPS and isn’t remotely satisfied.
“I still have to improve,” Devers said. “I can do a lot better than what I am doing now.”
As other teams game-plan against the Red Sox, Devers is the main target. Cora switched the lineup Friday, moving Devers from second to fourth in hopes of creating more opportunities.
“Slowly but surely, he’s understanding who he is,” Cora said.
On most nights, he’s the best hitter on the field. In a 2-2 game, Devers came to the plate with one out in the fifth inning facing righthander Jimmy Herget. The first pitch was a breaking ball down, but over the plate. Devers was waiting and lined it beyond the Pesky Pole.
The Sox had a lead they held, and what should be an eventful weekend homestand got off to a good start.
“It was a good swing,” Devers said. “I need to keep it up.”