Opposite-field homer signals successful adjustments for Devers

September 17th, 2023

TORONTO -- With the Red Sox down to their last strike on Sunday afternoon, went back to a trait that eluded him for months, but which has come back in a big way this weekend.

The star slugger belted a 96.5 mph fastball in the upper-middle portion of the strike zone and ripped it for a game-tying solo homer to left field in the top of the ninth. Though the Blue Jays won the game, 3-2, on a walk-off triple by Matt Chapman in the bottom of the ninth, Devers silenced Rogers Centre for a few minutes.

From June 10 through Sept. 15, Devers didn’t hit a home run to the opposite field. Sunday marked his second opposite-field knock in two days. Of the 33 homers that Devers has this season, seven have gone oppo. But four of those were in April, with one coming in June and two in these past two games in Toronto.

“Yeah, that’s baseball,” said Devers. “You go out there to try to give your best and try to give your 100 percent every time, but it doesn’t always happen your way. That’s why it’s baseball, that it could happen a couple of days in a row after not happening for a while.”

For Devers, it matters where the hits go. When Devers gets too pull-happy, that’s when he gets into bad habits. Over the past few days, however, he has consistently been ripping the ball to left and center.

“He's been working hard on a few things. And I think he's given himself room to work the ball up the middle and the other way,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He started at home and then obviously this weekend, he hit four or five balls that way. He’s locked in right now -- taking his walks, working the count, getting pitches he can drive. He’s in a great place right now.”

In his past 44 at-bats dating back to Sept. 5, Devers has a line of .364/.481/.705 with four homers and seven RBIs. When the slugging third baseman is swinging the bat like he has over these past 10 days, it reminds you of why the Red Sox were willing to give him a 10-year, $313.5 million extension that will kick in next season.

Though Devers is having the type of season many players don’t have in their entire career, it has been a par year for him, one in which he has often had to fight his way out of slumps. By finishing strong, Devers can build momentum heading into 2024, when the Red Sox expect to be postseason contenders again.

“I’ve been trying to make that adjustment the whole year,” said Devers. “But right now, I feel really locked in at [the] plate.”

Though Devers has always been a free-swinger, he has learned to be more selective of late -- which is perhaps made easier by the fact that teams are pitching around him at a time when much of Boston’s lineup has gone cold. During his current torrid stretch, Devers has also walked eight times.

“It helped me that I’ve been able to see a lot of pitches in the at-bat,” said Devers. “I’ve not been as aggressive as I've been in the past, so I think that’s helped me a lot. I think sometimes I'm way too aggressive, and that's something I need to take into consideration, and that's what I’ve done in the past few games.”

Befitting the type of season this has been for the Red Sox, the excitement gained by the equalizer from Devers was short-lived.

Boston has lost 10 of its past 12 games, and 15 out of 20. While a shortage of pitching was largely responsible for the team falling out of contention in late August and early September, the offense -- aside from Devers -- has headlined the struggles of late.

In Sunday’s loss, the club went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position. From Sept. 6 through Sunday, the Red Sox have a combined slash line of .151/.215/.269. All three of those stats (average, OBP, SLG) are last in MLB in that span.

“We’ve been inconsistent,” said Devers. “I can’t say it’s been one individual. The whole team has been inconsistent with men in scoring position. We need to make an adjustment. Sometimes we’re hitting the ball right at people. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. That’s baseball, and we need to keep grinding and keep giving our best to bring the guys in.”