MINNEAPOLIS – As members of the Red Sox continued to discuss the 458-foot homer by Rafael Devers on Sunday in Baltimore, they had to excuse themselves while scraping their jaws off the floor.
Hitting coach Tim Hyers said he’d never seen any lefthanded hitter crush a ball in that fashion to that part of the park. Pitching coach Dana LeVangie — whose background as a scout and role as a pitching coach gives him an incredibly thorough database of elite power hitters — couldn’t come up with anyone who hit a ball like the “absolutely amazing” shot by Devers. Bench coach Ron Roenicke wasn’t sure he’d seen a lefty masher do so since David Ortiz.
Since the 2015 introduction of Statcast — the radar-based system that precisely tracks everything that happens on the field — only three lefthanded hitters besides Devers (Pedro Alvarez, Joc Pederson, and Joey Gallo) had hit homers of at least 450 feet to the left of dead center field. The homers by Alvarez and Pederson were more accurately described as being to dead center; Gallo’s was 2.9 degrees to the left of center. Devers hit his 5 degrees to the left of center — meaning it was the furthest toward left of any ball thusly crushed.
The sound still echoed in the ears of those who’d been in the Sox dugout to watch it. So did the utter obliteration of a line drive that caromed off the back wall of the visitor’s bullpen at Camden Yards.
“As [Roenicke] says in the dugout, that ball got little in a hurry,” said Hyers. “That was definitely a no-doubter.”
That Devers could pulverize a fastball and generate the hand speed to explode on a pitch that had traveled into the strike zone — rather than reaching out toward a contact point in front of the plate that more typically generates pull power — underscores a special talent that the 22-year-old possesses. So, too, does the fact that he entered Monday leading the majors with 117 balls put in play with an exit velocity of at least 95 miles per hour — the type of scorched contact that most often generates extra-base hits and homers.
“He’s creating a lot of hand speed in a really short period of time because you have to catch it a little deeper,” said Hyers. “When you’re out front, you’re kind of getting a running start. There, the run is a lot shorter.”
While others marveled at what Devers did, the third baseman seemed less astonished by what he’d done. Did he know he could hit a ball that far to the left of center?
“Of course. I know I have a lot of strength, so I know how far I can hit a ball,” Devers said through translator Bryan Almonte. “It’s mostly just trying to make contact. If they try to pitch me inside, I’m trying to pull it and hit it as far as I can, and if they pitch me a little further out, I’m trying to go with the ball. It’s just getting a good at-bat and trying to make contact.”
Devers is doing plenty of that. He’s now hitting .306/.362/.502 with 11 homers this season, and ranks second among AL third baseman in extra-base hits (31). He has 100 extra-base hits in his career — making him the fifth Red Sox ever (along with Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Bobby Doerr, and Carl Yastrzemski) to reach such a milestone by his age-22 season.
“He can put on a show,” said Hyers.
Eovaldi starts back
For the first time since being shut down because of biceps soreness following his simulated game in Kansas City on June 4, Nate Eovaldi played catch.
“I’m back to normal,” said Eovaldi, who landed on the injured list in mid-April to undergo surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow. “Everything feels healthy.”
Eovaldi suggested that he hopes to progress soon to a mound given that he’d built up to 70 pitches prior to being shut down, but manager Alex Cora said there is no timetable for his return, and described the righthander as being in a position where he’d have to start over in his buildup toward a return.
“He needs to start playing catch, some progression from that,” said Cora. “At least today was a positive.”
With Eovaldi seemingly weeks from a return, Cora said he’d like to have lefthander Brian Johnson — who allowed one run in three innings against the Orioles on Sunday — remain in the fifth starter spot.
Ortiz in their thoughts
Prior to the game, the Twins asked patrons of Target Field to “send their thoughts and prayers” to David Ortiz as the former Twins and Red Sox slugger continues his recovery from last week’s gunshot wound. The scoreboard flashed Ortiz’s nickname before turning over to pictures of Ortiz first in a Twins uniform and then as a member of the Red Sox . . . Steve Pearce (lower back) worked out Monday and is scheduled to play three straight games with Triple-A Pawtucket from Tuesday through Thursday. Mitch Moreland, who returned to the injured list on June 8, is making progress in his recovery from a right quad strain but has yet to resume baseball activities . . . The Red Sox reinstated righthander Ryan Brasier from the bereavement/family medical leave list and activated righthander Hector Velazquez (lower back) from the injured list. To make room for both pitchers on the roster, the team optioned righthanders Travis Lakins and Josh Smith to Triple-A Pawtucket . . . The Red Sox signed utility man Chris Owings to a minor league deal. The 27-year-old was released this year by the Royals after hitting .133/.193/.222 in 40 games and playing six positions (second, third, short, and all three outfield spots; he also pitched in a game). He has a .242/.285/.368 career line in parts of seven big league seasons. Owings will report to Fort Myers before joining Pawtucket; if his bat comes back to life, he could become a righthanded-hitting depth option.