It is a time for production, not promise.
A year ago at this time, Jarren Duran, Triston Casas, and Brayan Bello were all in Triple A Worcester, potentially cornerstones of the big league team’s future. All three have made significant adjustments in the intervening year to forge places in the big leagues.
Yet at a time when the needed adjustments are ongoing, there is no hiding any of them — particularly now. Thanks to their residence in baseball’s Group of Death, an American League East division that one NL evaluator recently described as the best he’s ever seen — the Red Sox can ill afford glitches if they are to sustain realistic contention.
Already, following their 9-8 loss to the Reds at Fenway Park on Tuesday, the Red Sox sat (as of the final pitch) in last place in the AL East, four games behind the Astros and Yankees in the chase for the third and final wild card spot. For the Red Sox not only to keep pace but to make up ground, they need their young talents not only to learn at the game’s most challenging level but to reliably contribute while doing so.
The Red Sox have already enacted a dramatic rotation shakeup, shifting veterans Nick Pivetta and Corey Kluber to the bullpen, in recognition of the fact that Bello is at a point where he can come into his own.
He has the talent to be a top half of the rotation pitcher, something that had been evident over his five starts leading into Tuesday, when he forged a 2.57 ERA with 29 strikeouts and nine walks in 28 innings. His repertoire — a nasty sinker and devastating changeup, complemented by a four-seamer at the top of the zone and a slider — is good enough to beat teams while working in the strike zone.
As such, Bello’s outing on Tuesday night came as a disappointment. Despite relatively little hard contact against him, he threw enough non-competitive pitches, in combination with a whopping 27 foul balls from the Reds, that his pitch count soared.
Bello required 97 pitches to navigate just four innings, and so even though he allowed just one run, the Sox were left to turn to low-leverage relievers Justin Garza, Joely Rodriguez, and Ryan Sherriff to navigate the final five innings.
“No command. A lot of pitches in four innings,” said manager Alex Cora, who did praise Bello’s ability to escape a succession of jams with minimal harm before critiquing the pitcher’s overall performance. “He was inefficient.”
While Bello is being asked to help anchor the rotation, Duran and Casas face a similar task in the lineup.
For three straight games, manager Alex Cora has employed Duran in the fifth spot in the order and Casas right behind him, partly in an effort to separate righties Justin Turner (hitting third) and Kiké Hernández (seventh) in a heavily lefthanded lineup that creates late-inning pinch-hitting opportunities with Rob Refsnyder.
In those spots, the Sox need Duran and Casas to be contributors. On Tuesday, they combined to go 1 for 10 (the one-hit being a double to left-center by Duran, the sort of opposite-field swing that the team has been hoping to see for some time), and could not come through when given a chance to complete an unlikely comeback.
When the team rallied furiously in the ninth inning, putting runners on second and third with one out in a 9-7 game, Duran grounded out. Though the grounder scored a run to make it a 9-8 game, the outcome was relatively harmless for the Reds as it provided them with another crucial out. Casas then struck out with the tying run on third to end the game.
Duran has plummeted to earth following his scorching start (.406/.444/.672 in his first 18 games). In his last 19 games — a run that coincides with a downturn for the Sox offense — he’s hitting .188/.243/.275 with 25 strikeouts and four walks, with pitchers baiting him into chasing pitches out of the zone again.
Casas, meanwhile, ranks among the bottom five qualifying first basemen in average (.193), OBP (.308), and slugging (.359). The Red Sox remain resolute that the 23-year-old’s plate discipline and thoughtful approach will eventually yield better numbers.
“We trust this kid,” said Cora. “We’re not gonna go with a rollercoaster.”
For Casas, there is some evidence of an upward general trajectory. In his last 21 games, he’s hitting .269/.342/.448. But that improvement feels somewhat hollow given that, with runners on base in the same stretch, he’s hitting .171/.205/.293.
The Sox are mired in a 7-12 slough since early May. That does not fall on any one player or even group of players. But for the team to awaken and to prove its ambitions of contention are legitimate rather than delusional, it will need steady contributions from all parts of the roster — including the young players who are still learning how to make the constant adjustments required for big league success.