Jarren Duran is at his best when playing with reckless abandon. Or, as he puts it, “playing with his hair on fire.”
There’s a certain level of conviction that comes with that. Audaciousness.
Yet that flame can burn out quickly, much like it has for Duran in parts of the last two seasons since making his Red Sox debut in 2021. There were glimpses of his impact, but it was not sustained.
Experience is required. Preparation and understanding how your opponents want to attack you even more so.
The grind of the year will be the true test of Duran’s progression in those latter areas. But could the Sox have a different Duran?
The center fielder went 1 for 2 with a double, walk, and three RBIs in Thursday’s 11-5 win at Fenway Park against the Twins.
Duran’s two-run double in the fourth marked his fourth consecutive game with a double and his third straight game with an RBI. The lefthanded hitter is 5 for 13 since he was recalled from Triple A Worcester on Monday.
“He’s been good,” manager Alex Cora said before the series finale. “You can see it with the intent of the swing. You see it from batting practice. It’s not the show that he was trying to put on the last few years, hitting the ball in the air to the pull-side. Now, he’s driving the ball to left field and left-center.”
Duran has tinkered with his setup over the years, mainly involving his hand placement. At times, his hands would be near his midsection while in his stance. In other at-bats, he placed his hands near the letters on his jersey. But teams began exploiting Duran at the top of the strike zone, knowing it would be tough for him to get to fastballs in that area.
So, this year, Duran went back to what he always knew: hands above the shoulders. His swing looks more under control. Direct to the ball, and teams can’t pound him at the top of the zone as much.
“It’s that,” said Duran after the Sox got back to .500 (10-10). “But I also feel like I’m keeping my rhythm right now, which is a big thing for me. So like, if I keep my rhythm then I feel like I’ll make better pitch selection. That all comes into play.”
Duran missed much of spring training after he chose to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Raimel Tapia, who signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, took advantage of Duran’s absence and ultimately left Fort Myers with a big league gig. Meanwhile, Duran had just five WBC at-bats and was optioned to Worcester.
“The tournament helped some players, but it didn’t help him. Let’s be honest,” Cora said. “[Before he left for the WBC], he was driving the ball the other way [during spring training], he was swinging at the right pitches, and playing good baseball. When he came back, he was behind.”
It helps that Duran is carrying a lighter load mentally this year, after fighting off some of the pressure that comes with playing in Boston. He mentioned Kiké Hernández as a teammate he has grown closer to and who has helped to guide him.
“I’ve just been talking to people,” Duran said. “And not just letting it build up inside and tearing myself up.”
When the Sox recalled Duran last year at the beginning of June, he hit .308/.357/.474 (.832 OPS) in his first 20 games. Then he hit the cellar, batting .164 in his next 37.
The struggles will come again. But just maybe Duran’s response will be different. Maybe the Sox will finally get the player they envisioned.
Hernández hits No. 100
Hernández didn’t know he hit his 100th career homer Wednesday night in the sixth inning of a loss to the Twins. He was alerted by teammate Justin Turner.
“I wish I was more present in the moment,” Hernández said Thursday.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t take away from the significance, especially if you’ve carved out a career mainly as a valuable role player like Hernández has done.
Hernández is just the seventh player in the modern era to hit 100 homers and play at least 10 games at every position besides pitcher or catcher. The Rangers’ Brad Miller is the only other active player on the list.
“Being only six other guys to do it, I mean that’s pretty cool, to be honest with you. The road to 200 starts today. Hopefully it doesn’t take 10 seasons to get there,” Hernández joked.
Hernández began the season in a rut and snapped an 0 for 28 slump last week against the Rays. Since then, he is riding a seven-game hit streak with a .423 average in that span, including Thursday’s 3 for 5.
“I’m getting there,” Hernández said. “Obviously it was getting frustrating with no getting results. But in Tampa I started focusing on letting the ball get deep a little bit more and going the other way. I also got rid of the leg kick for a little bit and it has seemed to help me out.”
Paxton struggles out of ’pen
James Paxton allowed seven earned runs on five hits (one homer) and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning Wednesday in a Triple A rehab outing. The WooSox utilized the opener strategy with Paxton coming out of the bullpen, a role he isn’t accustomed to, for the third inning. The plan was for Paxton to pitch five of the bulk innings. Cora said despite the results, Paxton’s stuff was good, according to reports he received. Paxton will start in his next rehab appearance … Yu Chang was reinstated from the paternity list before the game and fellow infielder Enmanuel Valdez was optioned to Triple A Worcester. Chang homered in his return.