PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- With an 0-2 count in his first at-bat on Tuesday, Rafael Devers wouldn't have been wrong to expect a waste pitch aimed at trying to get him to chase.But Devers, at just 21 years old, is training himself to be ready for anything -- provided it
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- With an 0-2 count in his first at-bat on Tuesday, Rafael Devers wouldn't have been wrong to expect a waste pitch aimed at trying to get him to chase.
But Devers, at just 21 years old, is training himself to be ready for anything -- provided it is in the strike zone.
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So when he got a meaty slider down the middle, the promising slugger wasted the pitch with his bat and slammed it on the top of a tiki roof in left-center for a solo shot to help lead the Red Sox to a 9-1 win over the Rays.
It was his second home run of Spring Training, both of which have come in the last two games. Neither has been cheap.
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"That's what makes him so special," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He misses a fastball, he swings through a changeup and then he gets a slider and hits it the other way like that. It's amazing, we keep preaching, 'Stay in the zone,' because the smaller the strike zone gets to him, the better he's going to be. So we're just going to keep preaching that and he's a special one."
Devers, entering his first full season as the starting third baseman for the Red Sox, could be on the verge of big things with that powerful bat.
"Basically it's just finding my pitch, like I've always said, waiting for that pitch to hit and being aggressive and being more controlled aggressive and picking my spots," Devers said. "I think with a healthy season and staying healthy throughout the season, I believe in myself and I believe I can do a lot of good things."
After getting the callup to the Major Leagues for the stretch run of 2017, Devers did plenty of good things to help the Red Sox win the American League East title. In 222 at-bats, the lefty slugger slashed .284/.338/.482 and smoked 10 homers. If there was a knock on him, it's that his defense (14 errors in 149 total chances) was inconsistent.
But the good outweighed the bad, and in the postseason, Devers was special, clocking a big three-run homer to help the Red Sox avoid a sweep in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Astros. And in Game 4, with Boston down two runs in the ninth, Devers made Fenway Park as loud as it had been all season with an inside-the-park homer that gave his team temporary hope, only to have it fall short on the day the season would end.
Cora, who was Houston's bench coach in that series, took note of the kid throughout those couple of days at Fenway when the stakes were the highest.
"As a person, I knew he's not afraid. We knew that last year," Cora said. "That [Houston] bench would be all over him, screaming at him. Carlos Beltran, kind of joking around to kind of test him and he would smile and go to the plate and hit lasers. So he's not afraid. He's not afraid of the spotlight."
Cora first got to know Devers the day after Christmas in the Dominican Republic.
"I had a meeting with [third-base coach] Carlos [Febles] and a meeting with Raffy," said Cora. "And Carlos kind of like told him, 'It's Dec. 26 and he's here to talk to you. That's how important you are for us.' And I was like, yeah, 'You're important for us.' I tell him, 'You're a good player, you're good for us and you're important for what we're trying to accomplish.' He's just a kid."
Being able to speak the same language as his manager is another thing that will make Devers more comfortable this season.
The best advice Cora will probably give to Devers is, "Keep working, kid."
Cora would also like Devers to call him "AC" instead of "sir," but that's a topic for a different day.
"I've been working on both defense and offense," Devers said. "I feel like no one in the Majors is a finished product. No one is perfect. There's always something to work on. This Spring Training has been good for me to just get better at everything."
For a team that already has a collection of accomplished hitters (Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Xander Bogaerts, etc.), a high-impact season from Devers could make the Red Sox an elite offense.
"The power is there. We still have to work on a few things, we know," said Cora. "One thing we don't want to take away from him is his aggressiveness. But we've got to make sure it's in the strike zone. For him to be 21 and be able to make adjustments on the fly, that's great."