Rafael Devers showed again why he’s among baseball’s best hitters
A few years ago, a loaded Red Sox farm system inspired passionate disagreement about the pecking order at the top of its prospect lists.
Yoan Moncada’s five-tool potential screamed of a superstar’s ceiling. He was in the argument for the top prospect in all of baseball. So, too, was outfielder Andrew Benintendi, whose remarkable ability to put the barrel on the ball suggested a potential batting champion with the athleticism and instincts to play superb outfield defense.
In their shadow resided Rafael Devers. Yet three years after he last played on the same team as Moncada at High-A Salem, Devers — the baby of the bunch — looks like an emerging star who no longer needs to settle for secondary billing.
The 22-year-old continued his emergence as one of the game’s elite hitters on Tuesday night at Fenway Park against Moncada’s White Sox, going 4 for 4 with three doubles while driving in one run and scoring twice in the Red Sox’ 6-3 victory. At a time when he’s playing with a sore hamstring, the third baseman is showing an ability to excel despite less-than-ideal circumstances.
“The moment is not too big for him. He learned a lot last year in September and October. We knew the talent was there,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “I’m glad he’s playing for us, and he’s doing an outstanding job.”
Two of Devers’s hits — one misplayed by the White Sox, one a rocket off the Wall for a single — were to left, one double clanged off the fence in center, and another two-bagger sizzled between outfielders in right-center.
At an age when he is still gaining strength, Devers (hitting .317 with an .889 OPS) is scorching the ball to all fields in a fashion matched by few hitters in the big leagues, a notion embodied by his major league-leading 125 balls put in play with exit velocities of at least 95 miles per hour — the balls typically hit with such force as to yield the highest chances of extra-base hits.
“He’s hitting the ball so hard,” said Xander Bogaerts. “It’s kind of like J.D. [Martinez] last year . . . It’s a lot of loud.”
Devers, batting second with Benintendi getting a breather, helped to jump-start the Red Sox offense in the first inning against a team that opted to employ a quartet of pitchers for two innings each.
Mookie Betts led off the bottom of the first with an infield single against Carson Fulmer and advanced to second on an errant throw from shortstop Tim Anderson. Betts then raced home when Devers hit a fly ball down the left-field line that rookie Eloy Jimenez misplayed into a double.
The lead proved short-lived, thanks to some defensive miscues from Bogaerts in the next two innings. The shortstop’s throwing error on a grounder by leadoff man James McCann led to an unearned run off David Price in the second. And in the third, after the White Sox took a 2-1 lead with a pair of doubles, a two-out grounder by Jimenez skidded off the wet infield dirt and under the glove of Bogaerts for what was ruled an RBI single.
But as they did three times after falling behind in Monday’s walkoff win, the Red Sox returned serve, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the third on a bases-loaded, two-out single to left by Christian Vazquez that evened the game at 3-3.
Two innings later, Bogaerts made up for any misdeeds by following a Devers leadoff double against reliever Jose Ruiz with a two-run rocket to left-center. The shortstop’s 15th homer of the year had a projected distance of 429 feet, his longest of the year, and gave the Red Sox a 5-3 lead. With that round-tripper, Bogaerts took the American League lead for extra-base hits with 42 — also tied for the second most by a Red Sox shortstop through 81 games in at least the last 100 years.
Once again entrusted with a lead, Price concluded his outing with a scoreless sixth inning, the end of a night in which he once again demonstrated tremendous command of a diverse arsenal. Price — who’d been limited to five innings in his prior outing because of workload concerns — allowed three runs (two earned) while scattering eight hits, walking none, and striking out nine, improving to 5-2.
The lefthander lowered his ERA to 3.36. On a night when he featured a wipeout changeup as his primary offering while working up and down, in and out with his two- and four-seam fastballs, he coaxed 17 swings and misses from a lineup that was ready to hack.
“It was good, coming off of two shorter outings against Texas and in Minnesota, it was good to get the pitch count back up, be able to throw strikes, command the strike zone for the most part, and use everything,” said Price.
After the Red Sox tacked on an insurance run in the sixth to claim a 6-3 lead, the bullpen breezed through three scoreless innings. Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Brandon Workman (third save) combined for six strikeouts.
Red Sox pitchers overall struck out 15 batters and walked just one, helping their team to reach the midpoint of the schedule with a 44-37 record, tied with Cleveland and Texas for the second wild-card spot.
“By no means have we played our best baseball,” said Price. “We haven’t done anything great yet this year. To be where we are, seven games over .500, where we are in the standings, I think we should be excited about that. I think we all know that we’re a better team than what we showcased this first 81 games, and we look to get better.”