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Rookie Devers provides boost at perfect time

MLB.com @castrovince

CLEVELAND -- Mention the video, and a smile creeps across the baby face of 20-year-old Rafael Devers as he bows his head to laugh. Yes, he said, he saw that clip that went viral of a Yankees fan's self-shot reaction to the damage Devers inflicted upon Aroldis Chapman's 102.8-mph fastball earlier this month.

And yes, Devers loved every second of it.

CLEVELAND -- Mention the video, and a smile creeps across the baby face of 20-year-old Rafael Devers as he bows his head to laugh. Yes, he said, he saw that clip that went viral of a Yankees fan's self-shot reaction to the damage Devers inflicted upon Aroldis Chapman's 102.8-mph fastball earlier this month.

And yes, Devers loved every second of it.

"Just like any other fan, celebrating, thought they had won," Devers said through interpreter Daveson Perez. "It was funny."

This is how you quickly etch your name into Red Sox lore: Break the hearts of Yankees fans.

Devers has already done that and so much more in his four-plus weeks in the big leagues. He has rescued the Red Sox from their Panda-sized hole at third base, put his name into some obscure statistical company with one George Herman Ruth and become the fastest player under the legal drinking age to hit eight homers.

As first months go, you could do worse.

"He has proved he can play at this level," teammate Eduardo Nunez said. "That's very tough at that age."

It feels important to bring Nunez into this conversation, because he is the other key piece of the Red Sox's midseason resurgence. With the hot corner a source of ice-cold production for the first four months of the year, Boston swung a swap for the veteran utility man Nunez on July 25 -- the same day Devers made his Major League debut. At the time, it appeared they might split some time at third, but Dustin Pedroia's nagging left knee injury invited opportunity, and, for a few weeks now, it's been Nunez leading things off and manning second base and Devers handling the hot corner while raking in the middle of the order.

Video: BOS@CLE: Devers makes a diving stop at third base

The Red Sox are 17-6 since July 25. Their one-game lead over the Yanks in the American League East has expanded to 4 1/2.

It would have been insane to assume that a relatively low-profile swap and the callup of a kid with only 322 at-bats under his belt above Class A ball would help raise the Red Sox's run production from 4.65 per game to 5.75, but, well, baseball's not here to make sense. It's here to entertain, and what's more entertaining than a rookie leading the late-season charge to an AL East title?

Mere months after dealing high-profile infield prospect Yoan Moncada to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade, the Red Sox have trotted out another impact infielder from in-house in the thick of the race. Chicago didn't ask for Devers as a primary piece in those talks. His name only came up as a secondary piece once Boston had already agreed to deal Moncada. Obviously, Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski didn't bite on that bold proposal, and his decision to give Devers a shot in lieu of exploring the dregs of the late-July third-base market is looking wise.

Video: NYY@BOS: Devers drills a solo homer to right-center

"He brings that youthful enthusiasm that people like being around," Dombrowski said of Devers, who has a .312/.373/.613 slash line in 24 games. "When you look at him, it looks like he's playing Little League Baseball. He has a smile on his face, and he handles things well."

Devers handles all manner of pitching well. Groove him a fastball, as the Mariners' Andrew Moore did on Devers' second day in the bigs, and he can take you deep to center. Try to work him with the breaking ball outside, as the Yankees' Jordan Montgomery did on Friday, and Devers can go with the pitch the other way (and in that case, over the Green Monster). Try to jam him inside, as the Indians' Trevor Bauer did on Aug. 14, and Devers can pull it out to left.

Video: CLE@BOS: Devers belts a solo homer over Green Monster

"I just take what they give me," Devers said with a shrug.

That's how you get a spray chart that looks backward for a left-handed hitter:

Statcast™ tells us that entering Wednesday, Devers had the sixth-highest hard-hit percentage in the game in the month of August, with 51.1 percent of his batted balls coming with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more. He has barreled eight balls in his time in the bigs, second on the Sox to Hanley Ramirez (nine).

"He just thinks about hitting the ball hard -- anywhere," Nunez said.

When Devers homered off the Yankees in three straight games, he became the first player to do so before his 21st birthday since Babe Ruth. That was a fun nugget, but nothing was more fun than that moment when he effortlessly punched that Chapman fastball to the opposite field for the stunning game-tying shot on the hardest pitch any player has homered off since MLB started officially tracking pitch velocity in 2008.

Video: BOS@NYY: Devers hits clutch homer off 102.8-mph pitch

Moments like that -- moments that inspire absolute viral video gold -- don't come along for every player. But in making a major impact at an absurdly early age, Devers has inspired belief that he has plenty of magic moments ahead.

"I just want to be someone who is important in the game of baseball's future," Devers said. "I know that doesn't come overnight. There are no shortcuts. If I want to get where I want to get to, I have to keep working hard and trying my best."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Boston Red Sox, Rafael Devers