Rafael Devers staying red hot at top of the order
Judging only by his stats — 28 doubles, 73 RBI, 74 runs scored, and a team-high 122 hits — one might expect Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers to be 26 or 27 years old, with five-plus years of MLB experience.
But the baby-faced Devers, at age 22, is actually tearing it up as one of the youngest players in the league. Against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon — his 273rd career regular-season game — Devers became the fifth-fastest Red Sox to record 50 home runs, behind only Tony Conigliaro, Nomar Garciaparra, Ted Williams, and Carlton Fisk.
“Seeing the way that he has developed, it seems like he’s my age,” Xander Bogaerts said after Boston’s 5-0 victory. “Sometimes you forget that he’s that young.”
In the fifth inning Thursday, Devers turned an 87.8-m.p.h. changeup from lefty Thomas Pannone into a 109.8-m.p.h. rocket over the Sox bullpen, to drive in three runs and extend his team’s lead to 4-0. The performance came less than 24 hours after he drove in four of the Red Sox’ five runs in their win Wednesday.
These prolific games have seemingly become a common occurrence, as the decision to shift Devers up in the batting order pays off. Hitting second in Boston’s last 17 games, Devers has reached base in 16, driven in a run in 11, and hit .397/.450/.808 for a 1.258 OPS.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said leadoff hitter Mookie Betts. “I have one job, and it’s just to get on base and let him kind of take care of the rest. It makes my job a little easier.”
“[Devers] is really taking off,” added starter Chris Sale. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game right now. It’s amazing to see, too, because it’s off righthanded, lefthanded, power guys, [varying] speed pitches, he’s done it all.”
Called up to the majors in July 2017, Devers has always shown promise. Even as an opposing coach in the ALDS that year, manager Alex Cora detected Devers’s ability to not only stay, but also turn on pitches. Cora said he recognized how much of a threat Devers could be as long as he stayed within the zone.
But multiple hamstring injuries prevented him from reaching his potential in 2018. Devers played in only 121 games, bouncing on and off the disabled list three times in the final three months of the regular season. Through the nagging injuries, however, Devers said his confidence never wavered.
“The only difference between this year and last year is that I was hurt last year,” Devers said Thursday via an interpreter. “This year, luckily, I’ve been healthy, and I’ve been able to play more games. I haven’t changed my approach, really, just making little adjustments here and there.”
Bogaerts said he thinks the struggles can serve as motivation.
“When you have a little bit of a rough time, you want to go out there and prove people wrong,” Bogaerts said. “You want to go out and show you belong here. You have to help the team. He wants to prove that he can be in the big leagues and be a really good big-league player.”
Devers has done that, and Bogaerts is confident his best is yet to come.
“He still has a lot more to improve,” he said. “It will be really scary to see how good he can become after he finishes improving and reaches everything that his game can be. It’s unbelievable to see how he has transformed from last year to this year, in a good way. He has definitely helped the team out in the biggest way possible.”