Tomase: Triston Casas is proving he has staying power with Red Sox


It's not often that a rookie hitting .179 looks like he belongs in the big leagues, but Triston Casas is proving to be the exception.

The hulking first baseman had his mitts all over Tuesday's 13-9 victory over the Orioles, blasting his fifth home run and making two sparkling defensive plays on the same ball. The average doesn't sparkle, but the Red Sox may finally have a long-term answer at first base after a parade of mediocrity that helped doom this season.

"The numbers will get there," said manager Alex Cora. "We like the approach, the like the process, we like the defense. ... You see him in spring training, it's different. The way he goes about his business is very unique, he's really good, and we're very pleased with how he's handling the big leagues this month."

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The Red Sox don't just need the farm to provide hope and good cheer. They desperately need legitimate homegrown contributions so they can direct their resources at problem spots elsewhere on the roster, whether it's starting pitching, outfield, or the bullpen.

It certainly looks like Casas and right-hander Brayan Bello are keepers, which will give chief baseball Chaim Bloom some flexibility to attack the higher end of the free agent market, even if it's just to keep shortstop Xander Bogaerts and/or extend Rafael Devers.

That's the big picture. The snapshot is that Casas looks like he belongs, even if he's pretty much home run or bust at the moment. Listed at 6-foot-4 and a conservative 252 pounds, Casas owns prodigious power, particularly to the opposite field, but his most eye-opening skill is his ability to control the strike zone.

He is seeing 4.31 pitches per plate appearance, a ratio which would lead the league if he could maintain it over a full season and is in Kyle Schwarber/Aaron Judge territory, for context. He's not afraid to go deep into counts and take his walks, which is why his .179 average is offset by a .343 on base percentage and .789 OPS.

That said, there's a fine line between controlling the strike zone and being passive within it, and Casas seems already to be shifting to the positive side of that equation.

"I know a lot of people say it all evens out and this and that, but I like to take every at-bat individually," Casas said. "I felt like early on, my at-bats were pretty lengthy, but I still wasn't making good contact. I wasn't finding the middle of the barrel. Lately I have been. Yeah, I've been grinding out the pitches the same and grinding out at-bats the same, but I've been having a little more results and I'm happy about that."

If there's a sure sign of power that plays, it's hitting home runs to the opposite field, and Tuesday night's 421-foot bomb over the Monster was already Casas' third homer the other way in just 20 games.

More impressive to Cora was Casas' ability and awareness around the first base bag, which is a welcome development after watching Franchy Cordero and Bobby Dalbec struggle there for parts of the last two years.

In addition to nicely picking a throw from second baseman Kiké Hernández, Casas also made two sliding plays just seconds apart in the fifth, first to take a hit away from Austin Hays, and then to beat the speedy rookie to the bag when reliever Matt Strahm was late covering.

"I take a lot of pride on defense," Casas said. "I work on it every day really heavily and hitting home runs is great, driving in runs is great, but making a great play on defense picks everybody up and gets us back into the dugout and keeps the momentum on our side."

Those little individual moments add up to a feeling that Casas not only belongs, but will contribute in an everyday role next season. So forget about the numbers and just watch him do his work.

"Sometimes you go through stretches where stuff falls like the chopper over the pitcher's head and sometimes you hit the ball hard at guys and you can't really explain it," Casas said. "It's a lot of luck involved. The consistent thing is grinding out at-bats and swinging at good pitches and controlling what I can control."

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