Red Sox manager Alex Cora had to know.
After seeing the numbers that 22-year-old Rafael Devers is putting up for his club, he wanted to know where the club’s designated hitter and hitting guru, J.D. Martinez, was at Devers’s age.
“He [Martinez] said, ‘I was raking in A-ball,’ ” Cora detailed after Wednesday night’s 5-4 Sox win against the Toronto Blue Jays “And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And we look at [Rafael] and we see this.”
This was on display Wednesday: 3 for 5 with a homer, a double and a single, accounting for four of the five Sox RBIs. Devers is now batting .326 with 18 homers and a .938 OPS.
He lives gap to gap and line to line. For instance, his homer in the third was to left. His double the following inning went to right field and then his single was squared up to the right-center field gap.
“In 2017 I saw it from afar,” Cora said. “He has an ability to stay on pitches and at the same time turn on pitches. When he’s not expanding the zone, he’s very dangerous. Early in the season when he was hitting .330 at one point, he looked like he felt he could swing at anything and then his average went down. I think that was a great learning experience, don’t chase hits, just stay within yourself.’’
The Toronto Blue Jays have been a pain in the Red Sox’ side this season. A team whose offensive youth has resulted in some gray hair when it comes to the Sox pitching staff. Entering Wednesday, the Blue Jays scored 88 runs in 14 games against the Sox. They launched 25 homers in that span, too, and sported an .845 OPS. On Tuesday evening, they even put up 10 runs in yet another Sox loss.
But like Devers, Rordriguez kept the Sox in this one, going 6⅓ innings and allowing just two runs on solo shots by Teoscar Hernandez. In his May 21 outing against the Blue Jays, Rodriguez got knocked around for six earned runs in just five innings and the Sox lost, 10-3. But that was then. In his last three outings, Rodriguez had only yielded four runs in 17⅓ innings.
“For me it’s just go up there and go as deep I can (into games) and give innings,” Rodriguez said on his outing Wednesday. “That’s my goal all the time. I felt good. I was using my pitches pretty good.”
Said Cora: “He limited damage. Not too much hard contact. His fastball command, the changeup is outstanding. You can see, he’s getting better. Overall the last month and a half he’s been very consistent.”
Matt Barnes took over for Rodriguez with one out and two men on in the seventh and didn’t allow a run. Yet Josh Taylor did in the eighth on a Lourdes Gurriel solo shot, which cut the Red Sox lead to 4-3. Nevertheless in the bottom of that inning, Devers, the kid of the hour — or season — tallied his fourth RBI on a single. It gave the Sox much-needed insurance because Cora had a depleted bullpen, having to ride Brandon Workman for a five-out save after Taylor sputtered in the top of the eighth. Workman yielded a run in the ninth, but struck out Randal Grichuk to end the game.
“We were expecting [Taylor] to do the job and he didn’t, but we felt at that point [Workman] was the guy. We’re going to get better.”
Currently, though, there might not be anyone better than Devers on the Sox, who, at times, has put his squad on his 22-year-old shoulders.
“The approach that he now has at the plate, it’s different,” Rodriguez said. “Now he’s hitting the balls that he has to hit. He’s getting better and better.”