Tomase: Teams are learning ‘not so fast' pitching to Rafael Devers


Talk about a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Sure, throw Rafael Devers a bunch of fastballs. Let's see how that turns out.

From the moment the "book" came out on Devers last month, it felt like only a matter of time before the young Red Sox slugger ensured it would never be a best-seller.

It simply defied logic that one of the best pure power hitters in baseball would struggle for very long against heat, although the numbers certainly suggested following that path and hoping for the best.

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The Astros threw him more than 50 straight fastballs during a series at the start of June, dropping Devers' average on four-seamers to just .165. Manager Alex Cora likened him to a child hacking stubbornly at pitches he couldn't catch. Red Sox fans could be forgiven for wondering, improbably, if they were seeing a repeat of Michael Chavis, who was exposed by fastballs as a rookie and still hasn't recovered.

Those fears never made much sense. Devers so effortlessly crushed fastballs earlier in his career -- including one of 103 mph for a home run vs. Aroldis Chapman -- that continuing to throw him high heat this season felt like a spin of the Russian roulette chamber.

Eventually someone would get burned, and let's just say there are a lot of singed pitchers across the American League today.

On Sunday, Devers provided his most emphatic rejoinder yet, launching a 101 mph Gerrit Cole fastball 451 feet for a first-inning three-run homer that lifted the Red Sox to a 9-2 victory and sweep of the hated Yankees that dropped New York into fourth place.

The swing served as the latest evidence that Devers no longer has trouble with fastballs. But by all means, rival teams should keep testing him, because he absolutely hammers off-speed stuff.

"This kid, he was into this series," Cora said. "I saw him talking to veterans about situations, about at-bats, and he keeps growing. Like I said, this is his best first half of the season professionally and we all know what he does in the second one, so it should be fun watching him."

It's easy to forget that Devers has yet to put together a complete offensive season, but this one has a chance. He didn't homer during his breakout 2019 until May, for example, and he never really got untracked last year. But he homered five times in this season's first 10 games and he hasn't looked back.

After going 3 for 4 on Sunday, he's batting .283 with 19 home runs, 64 RBIs, and a .962 OPS. He's second only to MVP favorite Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays in RBIs (66), and he's bidding to become just the eighth player to reach 20 homers this year.

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He's doing it by denting fastballs. Since June 2, he's hitting .391 on heat, reestablishing himself as a hitter without an obvious weakness. While he could stand to improve his discipline, Devers is simply mashing the ball, and he's on track to earn not only the first All-Star berth of his career, but a starting nod at, too.

On Sunday, he sent a message to Cole and the rest of baseball: challenge me at your own risk.

"It's tough," Devers said. "Obviously with the type of pitcher he is as well, he's a really good pitcher, someone that you can't overlook. He has his moments just like all of us, ups and downs. Today we were able to get him. It was good to get it."

Don't be surprised if the getting is particularly good moving forward. After all, there's a book on Rafael Devers, and it's dead wrong.

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