FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Still beaming following the birth of his daughter Rachelese, Rafael Devers reported to camp on Friday with his easy smile and big bat in tow.
Considering the circumstances, it wasn’t hard for Devers to come to Spring Training a few days later than his teammates.
“I feel great,” Devers said. “Obviously being back here at camp is a great feeling, and I just want to give thanks to God. It's an honor to be here today, and obviously really excited about the birth of my new baby girl. The birth of my daughter is more important. That’s something that’s very special to me, and as soon as I heard that my girlfriend was about to give birth, I made it a point to get [to the Dominican Republic] as fast as possible to experience that.”
Given his late start, it will take the 23-year-old Devers a few days to get into games. But it’s hard to imagine it will take him that long to rediscover the stroke that led to a monster (.311/.361/.555, 201 hits, 54 doubles, 32 homers) 2019 season.
“Yeah, I don’t think it will take me long to get acclimated again,” Devers said. “I feel ready right now. I’m just going to go through the process, but I’m ready to go right now to do whatever it is I need to do.”
The Red Sox just need Devers to mash -- and it’s hard to believe he won’t. For the second straight spring, he came to camp in excellent shape after a stronger winter of workouts.
Devers is still hungry for more even after breaking out last year.
“I want to improve on everything,” Devers said. “I don’t feel like I’m a finished product yet. I want to improve on offense, defense, whatever it is that I can work on every single day because I feel like we always need to keep improving, and I just want to get better at helping my team win games as well, so just work on everything.”
A day after David Ortiz mentioned he was one of the biggest fans of Devers in existence, the young third baseman gushed when hearing that Big Papi praised him.
“It’s great to hear that, especially from a legend like David Ortiz. That’s someone who I watched growing up and someone I hold in high regard,” Devers said. “Knowing that he’s watching me, I try to pick his brain as much as I can, because I know the knowledge he has and can pass onto me is important to my growth.”
’Big year’ for Rusney
This is the fourth consecutive Spring Training that Rusney Castillo has had no real shot to make the team. At last, however, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Cuban outfielder who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Sox in 2014.
Due to luxury-tax implications and the fact that they have a full outfield, Boston has kept Castillo off the 40-man roster since early in the 2016 season.
Castillo is a non-roster invitee in camp. He went 0-for-2 while starting in right field in Friday’s 3-0 win over Northeastern.
“He’s going to be a free agent at the end of the year, so I think this is going to be a big year for him,” Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke said. “Go out and do what you’ve been doing, which has been really good in Triple-A, and hopefully you find yourself in the big leagues. And not to say that it won’t happen this year, but if it doesn’t, shoot, go out and be the same guy and maybe you play a few more years.
“I don’t know him that well, but I know they’ve had really good things to say about him. He’s been in a tough spot, and he keeps doing a nice job for us.”
The Red Sox still don’t have a specific timetable on Alex Verdugo’s progression this spring as he recovers from a stress fracture in his back. But they seem to be getting closer to identifying one.
“He’s happy where his progression is. Our training staff is happy with what is going on,” Roenicke said. “But I think we’re far enough away where I can’t give you a close timeline. I would say in another week, maybe two weeks, we will have a better idea when we’re going to start with things because I don’t even know when we’re going to start with BP on the field. He is doing some light stuff, but we’re not there yet.
What is Verdugo up to?
“He’s running a little bit outside and actually putting more effort into it than they thought he would,” Roenicke said. “They’re happy he’s a little farther along than what they thought. Anytime you hear that, they feel like they can push him a little bit more. I shouldn’t say 'push' because it sounds like when you say pushing, you’re trying to get him there quicker. We’re not trying to do that. We’re just kind of pushing him forward.”
The Red Sox make their Grapefruit League debut on Saturday afternoon against the Rays at JetBlue Park. Non-roster invitee Brian Johnson, who is battling for the fifth spot in the rotation or a bullpen spot, will get the start. Several Boston regulars, including Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr., are expected to be in the starting lineup. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.