Bradford: How one play defined Rafael Devers

Rob Bradford
August 29, 2017 - 1:33 am

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

TORONTO -- We thought we knew Rafael Devers.

Heading into what would be a Red Sox' 6-5 win over the Blue Jays Monday night, Devers had already sold himself. In 28 games, the 20-year-old rookie already hit eight home runs with a batting average of .296. He chewed a lot of gum, smiled a bunch, and was offering this team the offensive infusion it desperately needed.

There was also the understanding that while Devers might slump here and there, it wasn't going to be because he was overmatched. After his 0-for-4 against the Jays, this was a guy whose evolution had put him in a 4-for-35 slump (.114). But the image of the lefty slugger launching Aroldis Chapman's 102 mph heater over the Yankee Stadium fence still was going to win out for the time being.

That was it, right? Wrong. There was more to uncover, as we found out thanks to Kevin Pillar's bases-loaded grounder.

With the Red Sox and Drew Pomeranz barely hanging on, trailing by a run with one out and the bases full in the fifth inning, Pillar pounded a ground ball down the third base line. Devers moved over, collecting the ball well behind the bag, and immediately eyed the potential out at first. That's when, in a matter of a few seconds, we got an idea of why this is not the kind of rookie we saw in Yoan Moncada a year ago.

He threw home.

"Yeah, that was the only play I had," Devers said through translator Daveson Perez. "Basically I was thinking if the ball was hit hard to me, I would go for the double play. In that situation, the only play I had was to go home with it." The third baseman added, "My mentality initially was to go to first, but when I saw he was already halfway down the line, I went home with it."

Getting Josh Donaldson at the plate was undeniably one of the biggest plays in this Red Sox win. But it was more than that. It was a reminder why Devers might be equipped to deal with this pennant race, even the kind of offensive downturns we're currently witnessing.

It's a side of Devers we might have have overlooked. But, evidently, it's a pretty big part of the equation.

"He's always been a mature kid," said Red Sox mental skills coach Laz Gutierrez, who has known Devers since the Red Sox signed the infielder as a 16-year-old. "He has a baby face and everything, but he's always been a mature kid. He's always been diligent at his craft. He always works at it, and always wants to win. When talking to that staff in Portland, the one thing Carlos Febles will tell you is that this kid wanted to work early every single day. And even beyond Carlos, the guys who managed him before that and coached him before that said the same thing. Early on he knew the importance of having a routine, and it was beyond just hitting. These guys love to hit, so it's always hitting, hitting, hitting. But he worked on all aspects of his game. And I think what you see now is all that work that he's put in, and some of it is credit to who he is as a player. That play he made today, that's pure instinct."

Has he seen that from Devers before (because we hadn't)?

"Absolutely," Gutierrez responded. "Listen, I can't speak for our scouts and what they saw. But the one thing that you've always seen with Raffy aside from the work ethic and aside from the tools is that he's an instinctual player, and obviously that's playing up now.

"He's absolutely the same kid. And, listen, we could say that about the group we have here who are home grown. I think that's one of the reasons we've seen success and the reason this group has been successful. They've been able to be the same guys they have been in the minor leagues. That's what you're seeing now. There hasn't been a difference. There's a tendency for everyone to try and show they have to do do something differently and be someone else. These guys have been able to remain who they are, on the field and off the field."

It was just one play, and didn't even involve hitting a ball over the wall. Still, it said a lot.

Confidence. Instincts. Ability. Meet Rafael Devers, the player who took another enormous step toward defining what the Red Sox will have at third base for the final 31 games.

"He came with a lot of description by the player development staff that he’s a very genuinely confident kid," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I think that’s why you see him keep the speed of the game under control. Tonight was a prime example of it. You see him in the batter’s box with the same presence. Kind of a natural."

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