Ryan Dempster, Brock Holt are becoming marathoners
Back in 2019, Mookie Betts started catching fire. Why? According to the former Red Sox it was in large part because of the hitter behind him, Rafael Devers.
"There’s a flow to the game," Betts told WEEI.com during that 2019 season. "Devers is behind me swinging early so sometimes you have to sacrifice taking some pitches so he can swing early, especially the way he’s swinging the bat. He needs to be able to swing whenever. So I kind of take ownership to work the count or whatever so he can do whatever he wants to do because I’m confident to hit with two strikes. I also kind of sabotage myself, too … He’s banging and he likes to swing early and I know that. He likes to swing early and I don’t mind having two strikes so I just take one for the team."
"There's a flow to the game."
This one line offers an explanation of what David Ortiz was talking about at Winter Weekend when appearing on WEEI. Ortiz looks at the Red Sox lineup, and then thinks about Devers and wonders where that "flow" is going to come from.
"If I’m facing him I’m pithing around him, regardless," Ortiz said bluntly when talking about Devers. "No doubt about it. You’re talking about one of the most feared hitters in baseball right now. I have been there before, and if I had no one behind me they won’t pitch to me. You know that. Now you have to find a way who can consistently protect him so he can continue to keep seeing pitches. Because he is still too young and you don’t want to get to the point where you get frustrated because your production is not quite there. You have to see both sides. You have to see if they are pitching you and you are missing pitches, or if they are not pitching you and you are chasing pitches. So, we’ll see. Let’s see what the season brings to the table."
Who will protect Rafael Devers? That's what David Ortiz wants to know
As the Hall of Famer explained, he has been in Devers' shoes before. Living life with the uncertainty of who might be in the on-deck circle when each at-bat comes around.
Back in 2014, Ortiz was very vocal in spring training about the concern regarding who would be protecting him in the batting order, with the likes of Mike Napoli, Mike Carp and Grady Sizemore serving as the primary options. (Ortiz really wanted Nelson Cruz on the Red Sox.)
The next season the Sox tried to alleviate Ortiz's anxieties with the acquisition of both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
In the case of Devers, this a new conversation. Since the third baseman's arrival, there has always been a plethora of proven bats behind him thanks to the likes of J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts.
Whether it was a coincidence or not, August saw Devers have perhaps the worst month of his career (.164 batting average, .515 OPS) in August of last season. It was the same month the players hitting behind him (Bogaerts and Martinez) were struggling through their worst months of their respective 2022 campaigns.
So, is there an answer to Ortiz's concern? Perhaps. But certainly there doesn't seem to be many certainties.
The first name that jumps to mind is new designated hitter Justin Turner, who hit fifth or sixth for the majority of his 2022 season with the Dodgers. The righty-hitter would seem to be the head-and-shoulders best option at the moment considering the side of the plate he hits from.
The other top candidate is Adam Duvall, another power-hitting righty hitter. While he has displayed the kind of power needed in the middle of the order in years past, it's hard to dive head-first into the idea considering Duvall finished with a .677 OPS before hurting his wrist after 86 games. And when he was healthy, his primary spot in the Braves' lineup was at No. 7, with the six-hole serving as his second-most-occupied position.
Much of this will play out over the coming months. Remember, few believed Hunter Renfroe would present the type of lineup presence he offered. But Ortiz does have a point.
He knows of what he speaks.