Brayan Bello’s first full season in the big leagues has represented a solid starting point. Through 24 starts, his 11-8 record and 3.61 ERA while averaging 5⅔ innings per outing leave little question that he belongs in a big-league rotation.
Yet there is still plenty of room for the 24-year-old to grow, with a need for further steps if he is to emerge as a pitcher who can reside in the top half of the Red Sox rotation for years to come.
“He can still get better. He wants to and he tries to,” said Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. “He has a great foundation. And like any young pitcher, there’s parts of the game he’s still learning and getting better at.”
Bello’s recent performances have offered the possibility of a breakthrough. All year, his sinker and changeup have been outstanding pitches, but he’s lacked a consistent breaking ball as a complement, his slider often representing a vulnerability.
But in his last four starts entering his scheduled outing against the Orioles on Sunday, Bello has changed its shape and grip. He’s throwing it harder (86-87 m.p.h., up from 84-85 most of the year) and creating more sweep with it, the slider evolving from a baby curveball that stayed in the zone with a “hit me” sign to become one that can steer away from barrels.
Through 20 starts, Bello averaged about 1-2 inches of lateral break on his slider and 44 inches of drop. In his last four: eight inches of glove-side break and 38 inches of drop. He’s struck out five batters on sliders in his last four outings — including three Rays on Monday — matching his total from his prior 16 starts.
“I’m looking for a slider like Wandy Peralta with the Brewers, that same kind of shape. Right now it has the depth I’m looking for, but I still need to improve it and try to make it more consistent,” Bello said through a translator. “In the past three or four outings, I’ve been able to throw the slider more consistently in the strike zone. I’ve been able to throw it for strikes and also to strike batters out. I think at the end of the year, it’s going to be much better than it already is.”
Bush said a slider that breaks horizontally and is thrown harder represents a better pairing with Bello’s sinker, as the two pitches tunnel well before breaking in opposite directions. That match could increase the number of swings-and-misses, as well as the amount of bad contact. A sweepier slider would also play better against lefties, allowing Bello to move beyond a somewhat narrow two-pitch mix against them.
“I already have confidence to attack hitters with my two best pitches. With a third one, it’s going to be another weapon that I can use to get through the lineup more times,” said Bello. “I think when I get to be more consistent with my third pitch, it’s gonna bring me way above where I am right now.”
Second thoughts on Ceddanne
For the seventh time in 10 games since he was called up from Triple A Worcester, Ceddanne Rafaela wasn’t in the Red Sox starting lineup Saturday, entering the 13-12 loss as a pinch runner in the seventh and reaching on an infield single in the ninth as the DH. That infrequent usage stands in contrast to how the Sox used Triston Casas last September, when he immediately became an everyday player. Why the difference?
“Last year, we were ‘out, out.’ This year, we’re still kind of in the hunt,” explained manager Alex Cora. “It doesn’t look great, but we’ve still got games against Toronto, we’ve still got games against Texas. We get in a hot streak here, those games might mean something.”
So, the Sox aren’t ready to prioritize developing players over what they see as the best lineup on a given day. Against Orioles righty Jack Flaherty, that meant an all-lefthanded outfield of Wilyer Abreu, Masataka Yoshida, and Alex Verdugo.
Still, Cora vowed that Rafaela will play — including at second base, a position that Rafaela played for the first time this year on Wednesday and Friday. He made one appearance there in 2022 and eight in 2021, with most of his playing time focused on center and short.
“I think everybody’s comfortable with [Rafaela at second],” said Cora. “I don’t want him to get hit on the double play and then something bad happens. We gotta be smart. But at one point, he’ll start at second.”
Though Rafaela has just 17 plate appearances, Cora praised the 22-year-old for his offensive progress since a swing-at-everything spring training. Those 17 resulted in eight hits, seven strikeouts, no walks, and just two outs on balls in play.
“[His approach is] a lot better than what we saw in spring training,” said Cora. “He’s made some adjustments, not chasing that much, especially [on] the breaking balls off the plate. So, so far he has been good.”
The bullpen carousel continued, with righthander Zack Weiss getting called up and lefthander Brandon Walter getting optioned. Weiss, 31, was claimed off waivers from the Angels in late August and was hit hard in his debut, giving up back-to-back solo home runs in the sixth inning. The righthander represents an interesting study in perseverance. He pitched in one big-league game for the Reds in 2018, but didn’t record an out against four hitters — an ERA of infinity. He was released that year, and bounced between minor league systems and indy ball for much of the next four before getting called up by the Angels last September. “It’s been a lot of work. It’s been a lot of ugly years and some grindy situations. I tried to keep my head down, tried to understand who I was as a player, and continue to improve,” said Weiss before the game. “It’s a gratifying journey I’d say. To end up in the Red Sox home locker room is obviously a very cool feeling.” . . . Pablo Reyes went 0 for 4 as the DH for Worcester on Saturday, and will possibly serve there again Sunday, with Cora suggesting he’d be activated from his left elbow inflammation next week. Righthander Corey Kluber (shoulder) pitched a perfect first inning with a strikeout.