ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was the 1-0 pitch that was the most puzzling, yet summed up Triston Casas’s first full season in the big leagues.
With the Red Sox trailing, 1-0, in the fourth inning with a runner on Tuesday, Griffin Canning delivered a four-seam fastball down the heart of the plate. Casas had a chance to do some damage. Perhaps unlock an offense that had been silent for most of this west coast swing.
Instead, he took it for a strike. Three pitches later, Casas swung through a changeup to end the inning in a game where Boston mustered just two hits.
Casas is known for the quality of his at-bats. He sees 4.16 pitches per plate appearance, safely in the top 20 percent of hitters, as is his 22.6 percent chase rate. But Casas can let the reins go, failing to complete his at-bats.
“Ultimately, I’m process-driven. I’m not results-based,” Casas said Wednesday. “But it’s important to finish those at-bats and get a hit or get a walk.”
Against Canning, Casas said he lost the cat-and-mouse game. Casas was hunting something offspeed or a breaking ball after he saw only one heater when he drew a second-inning walk. Understandable, but he’s also known to gear up for the fastball. Casas might have been thinking too much, swaying away from his strength based on an opponents previous tendencies.
Casas appeared as if he was turning a corner, batting .345/.444/.586 with a pair of homers in his first 10 games in May. But he’s 3 for 23 (.130) with a homer and just three walks since.
Is potentially being sent down to Triple A Worcester a thought that crosses his mind?
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” said Casas, whose .181 season average is worst among MLB first basemen with 150 plate appearances. “It’s something that every baseball player deals with at a certain point, but that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it a little more intense. That’s what makes it all worthwhile when you do finally succeed at this level, was the anxiety that you were facing [because of the potential] of failure. I embrace that challenge. I accept it.”
A demotion, however, doesn’t sound like it’s in the Red Sox plan. The Sox also trust Casas’s process, and believe the results will come based on some underlying numbers. His barrel rate — a measure of contact based on strong exit velocities and launch angles — is just outside the top 15 percent in baseball. (It’s second on the Red Sox, trailing only Rafael Devers.) However, just 46 percent of those barrels have turned into hits, the third-worst rate in baseball for hitters with a minimum of 10 barrels.
Casas stung two balls hard at the start of the Padres series. Neither was a hit, including one in which Fernando Tatis Jr. robbed Casas of extra bases.
“At one point, he’s gonna start hitting for average. He will do damage. He’s gonna get on base,” manager Alex Cora said. “Obviously, certain numbers don’t look right, but others, they look great. He’s gonna keep playing. He’s gonna be here. This is a guy that we trust.”
Still, Casas is beginning to learn that he can’t be too passive at the plate. The more aggressive he is in the zone, the more walks he will draw because pitchers will begin going to the edges out of respect.
“The slug will come,” Casas said. “Ultimately I’m just trying to get on-base. That’s what finishing an at-bat is.”
The Sox are in win-now mode. Winning at the big league level supersedes development, yet they remain committed to Casas and his approach, believing results — and thus more winning — will follow.
“It’s definitely a large enough sample size to be able to question whether my process is valid or not,” Casas said. “But I believe in myself, everybody else in this room does, and they make it easy for me to come out every day and put my best foot forward.”
Another piece released
Freddy Valdez, one of the prospects received in the Andrew Benintendi trade in February 2021, was released Thursday. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .216 in 52 appearances in the Florida Complex League the last two seasons. Franchy Cordero, also part of the five-player return for Benintendi, homered for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate against the WooSox on Wednesday . . . Chris Sale (5.01 ERA) is scheduled to toe the slab against the Diamondbacks’ Brandon Pfaadt on Friday in Phoenix. Garrett Whitlock (6.19 ERA) will make his first start Saturday since being placed on the injured list last month, and Tanner Houck (4.99 ERA) will take the mound in Sunday’s series finale against Merrill Kelly (2.98 ERA). The Diamondbacks (29-21) are in second place in the National League West and have won seven of their last 10. The Sox have played eight series all-time against Arizona, the last when they lost two of three at Chase Field in April 2019.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.