Rafael Devers’s scorched-earth start to his major league career gave the Red Sox a much-needed injection of life into the lineup.
But over the past week, reality’s begun to set in on the rookie.
Devers is 2 for 27 over his last seven games, including an 0 for 4 day with a strikeout in the Sox’ 7-0 loss to the Orioles on Saturday afternoon. He’s struck out eight times with just two walks in that stretch.
After hitting .364 with eight homers and 16 RBIs in his first 20 games, he put himself in rare company in the Red Sox record books.
But as pitchers make adjustments in their approach to the 20-year-old third baseman, Devers will have to make adjustments of his own.
“You always pay close attention to how guys are handling stretches where maybe they’re not having the success they’ve had of late,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s getting pitched to a little bit differently right now. The book is out on him, now it’s a matter of if he can adjust to how pitchers are attacking him. So that’s ongoing.”
Over that torrid 20-game stretch, there weren’t many pitches that got past Devers. He crushed fastballs (.500 average, four singles, one double, five homers), he pounded curveballs (.438, three singles, two doubles, two homers), and he sprayed sliders (.308, four singles).
But over the past seven games, the fastballs he’s been getting haven’t come when he’s expected them.
“I’ve definitely noticed the difference,” Devers said. “They’ve been pitching a lot different than when I first came up.”
The rough patch was by no means unexpected to Devers.
“I just try to look at it as no one’s really perfect and there’s ups and downs in whatever you do on the baseball field,” he said. “But I just try not to think too much about things when they’re going bad and kind of stick to what’s working.”
From Jackie Bradley Jr. to Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts to Andrew Benintendi, the Sox clubhouse is littered with young players who’ve gone through the same learning process.
Devers said he’s been picking Bogaerts’s brain.
“Basically he just told me it happens in baseball,” Devers said.
“No one’s perfect. He told me about a time early in his career when he went through a rough stretch, but you just get out of it.”
Shake it off
Eduardo Nunez was back in the lineup Saturday after suffering a left wrist/left thumb sprain in the second inning of Friday’s 16-3 loss to the Orioles.
As Manny Machado tried to steal second, Nunez leaped in an attempt to grab an errant throw from catcher Sandy Leon. But as Machado slid into the bag at the same time, he clipped Nunez, who took a nasty spill and landed awkwardly on his left hand.
After getting medical attention on the field, he was taken out of the game. X-rays were negative. He went in for an MRI that showed no further damage.
“He came through the exam in good shape,” Farrell said before Saturday’s game. “Precautionary, we did take him for an MRI just to rule out anything further in the wrist or the thumb. All that was clean.”
Since being traded to the Sox in July, Nunez has been a spark in the lineup. Although he went 0 for 4 Saturday, he’s hitting .324 with seven doubles, six home runs, and 20 RBIs. He’s held down the fort at second base since Dustin Pedroia has been shelved with a left knee injury, playing 19 of his 25 games there.
A bit of a mixup
In any other circumstance besides the ninth inning of a 13-run blowout Friday, the mixup between Chris Young and Hanley Ramirez might have been a bigger issue.
When Mitch Moreland moved from first to pitch the top of the ninth, Ramirez took Young’s spot in the lineup and played first.
But in the bottom of the inning, even though he was taken out of the game, Young still took his turn at bat.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter made no objections and home plate umpire Scott Barry let the inning continue. Young singled to center.
Farrell admitted it should’ve never happened. It was unclear whether the confusion was on Young or Ramirez’s part.
“Hanley should’ve hit in Young’s spot,” Farrell said. “Any time you insert the DH out of the field, you know you lose your DH and your pitcher’s got to hit. In this case, it’s a rarity because of the pitcher coming out of the game for a position player and then a position player pitching. So Hanley should’ve hit in Young’s spot.”
While Sox relievers still have the best bullpen ERA in the American League, Farrell said it’s important to watch their workload as the innings pitched pile up late in the season.
As a unit, they had thrown 392⅔ innings going into Saturday (25th in the majors).
In recent days, though, the Sox have seen rough appearances from Brandon Workman (two runs on four hits in 1⅓ innings Thursday in Cleveland and one run on a homer in 1⅓ innings Saturday), Joe Kelly (two runs on five hits and a walk in 1⅓ innings Friday), and Blaine Boyer (three runs on four hits in one inning Friday).
“You can’t deny that the work load starts to add up,” Farrell said. “It still comes down to execution. Regardless of the time of the season. It’s more command, though, than stuff, because you still look at the measure of velocity and it’s still consistent and it’s the command in the strike zone that’s the key.”
Days of labor
Pedroia continued to go through baseball activities prior to Saturday’s game, but a timetable for a return is unclear. He went through batting practice, but has yet to fully run the bases and gone through intense drill work. “He keeps making positive steps,” Farrell said. “Still don’t have a return date, but as far as the ramping up of activities and the intensity to it, that’s in the works.” . . . David Price continued his throwing program, playing catch out to 120 feet for the second straight day . . . The soreness and swelling in Bradley’s injured left thumb subsided Friday. He’s wearing a smaller splint that the one he initially had on the thumb. Originally, it was recommended by a hand specialist that Bradley would need seven days to recover, but his progress could mean an earlier return.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.