The Red Sox’ roster moves Monday — designating outfielder Raimel Tapia for assignment with Christian Arroyo coming off the injured list — sent a simple yet direct message to Jarren Duran: “We trust you.”
Even though Duran has a pair of options left and wouldn’t have been subject to waivers like Tapia, the Sox chose to keep the 26-year-old center fielder.
“Where the game is going, he fits the mold, right?” manager Alex Cora said Monday. “Fast, dynamic, that’s something we cannot hide.”
The choice reiterates that the team sees Duran as a key part of their present and future despite a recent offensive downturn and potential competition returning from injury.
“It’s always a confidence booster when your team has trust in you and they’re putting their faith in you,” he said.
Duran didn’t start during the 4-1 loss against Rays lefty Shane McClanahan. In his place was Kiké Hernández, who robbed a home run in the second inning and will continue to start there against lefthanders with the Sox’ current roster, Cora said.
Despite that, Cora emphasized that Duran would not become a part-time player, saying that he was too valuable to the team and that the Sox would find time for him to play regularly.
Cora pinch hit Duran in the seventh inning with righthander Calvin Faucher in for McClanahan and kept him in center field. Duran went 0 for 2.
His bat has lagged after a scorching start. He was called up in mid-April and hit .366/.413/.606 in his first 20 games. But his numbers nosedived in the 22 games since, a span in which he batted .203 with a .559 OPS.
“Sometimes I lose sight of doing the little things,” Duran said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I have to get a hit for the team instead of just putting together a quality at bat which helps the next guy.’”
The struggles can be explained in part by Duran’s ground ball percentage, which increased by over 18 percentage points in the 22-game skid. He’s paired that with a significant drop in his batting average on balls in play and a sharp increase in his strikeout rate — from 25 percent in his first 20 games to 34.9 percent in the 22 games before Monday.
Duran ended Monday’s game with a punchout against Tampa Bay’s Jason Adam. The at-bat went quickly: Adam threw three changeups that earned three swings and misses.
Rob Refsnyder, whom Duran called one of his closest friends, talked to him about that last at-bat postgame. It was a conversation that put things in perspective for Duran; Refsnyder told him the pitcher he faced has one of the best changeups in the game.
“All those pitches were starting up and they were finishing below the zone,” Duran said. “They were good pitches, just got to tip your cap sometimes.”
Teammate Triston Casas told his fellow young lefthander to focus on putting the ball in play more by being short to the ball and efficient with his swing.
“I try to tell him that he’s blessed with the tool of speed, something that I don’t necessarily have,” Casas said. “[The contact-based approach] is going to produce a lot of hits … it’s going to put him in a good position to get on base and keep the line moving just with how well he runs.”
Duran’s speed, hot start, and defensive improvement are among the reasons he’s maintained a positive WAR — he’s fourth on the Sox among position players, according to FanGraphs, entering Monday — even with the batting struggles.
After finishing with a minus-2 outs above average last season, a mark that tied for fourth-worst among qualified MLB center fielders, Duran is already a plus-2 in that metric this year.
He’s also been solid on the base paths, leading the Sox with seven stolen bases and ranking as the only representative from the team in the top 50 of FanGraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning metric.
“We like his defense, he’s been a lot better, and obviously we love the way he runs the bases,” Cora said.
Duran could move into a platoon role as he navigates what’s becoming a crowded outfield. Adam Duvall, who is targeting a Friday activation from the injured list, may also take at-bats away from him.
The Sox could potentially have six outfielders with Duran, Alex Verdugo, and Masataka Yoshida batting from the left side and Hernández, Duvall, and Refsnyder from the right.
Duran remained unfazed by the potential logjam, saying he just has to keep working in the team’s facility.
“Just try and stay in rhythm and be ready whenever they need me,” he said.