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Red Sox 3, Rays 11: Shades of 2020

Bad pitching, bringing us back to last summer.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox had the day off on Monday and came back for a nine-inning affair against the Rays on Tuesday, but the pitching forgot to show up. They did get a solid start for this game, which we’ll get to in a minute, but everyone who came after really struggled. The offense, meanwhile, had nothing early before getting going late after the game was out of hand. In other words, it was like seemingly every game last summer. Good times! Here are some notes from the day:

A solid day for Nick Pivetta

This was mostly a day of bad pitching for the Red Sox, but we’ll kick things off by looking at the starter, who had what was all around a fine day. I certainly don’t think Nick Pivetta was perfect here, and some of the usual concerns were once again on display, but all in all it wasn’t a terrible day. He got off to a rough start by giving up a ground-rule double to the first batter he faced, and he did give up a run in that first inning on a two-out base hit. But he settled down a bit after that, giving up just a single (which could have been an error, but more on that in a second) in the second before tossing a perfect third. In all, he allowed just the three hits over his three innings of work, striking out three and walking none.

The stuff was certainly there for Pivetta in this one, with his fastball looking like it was back up in the mid-90s for a second straight start. That is encouraging as the velocity was down around 92 in his sporadic appearances a year ago. The righty also had both of his breaking pitches working here. The stuff has never really been the issue, though. Instead it’s been his proclivity for allowing hard contact. That was on display here as well, as all three hits (even the one that could have been an error) were hit pretty hard. All in all it was certainly a positive start, but the concerns are still there.

Given that he is out of minor-league options, Pivetta is a shoo-in for the Opening Day rotation as long as he is healthy. Really, this spring is about getting everything in order and building some momentum to carry into the season, because his leash in the rotation could be (really, should be) short. That said, the early returns this spring have been more positive than negative, and that’s all we can really ask.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

A rough start for Rafael Devers

One of the more intriguing questions for the upcoming season is how Rafael Devers plays defensively. With Bobby Dalbec looking to establish himself as a quality major-league regular and Triston Casas quickly approaching the majors, things will be a lot easier to navigate if Devers can prove he can stick at third base. We know he has the ability — he was quite good for about two-thirds of 2019 — but more often than not it’s been more bad than good. His offense, meanwhile, isn’t as much of a question, though it would be nice for him to shake his habit of bad starts to his seasons.

All of this makes him one of the more intriguing watches of the spring, but Tuesday continued what has been a bit of a rough start to his 2021. Devers does, to his credit, appear to be in better physical shape than he was a year ago, which is probably more encouraging than everything else I’m about to say is discouraging. Still, he had a couple of tough plays in this one, both of which went for hits. The first I can’t really say was his fault all that much. Yandy Díaz hit a rocket to the left side, and while Devers was there it was hit hard enough that it was a clean hit and a ball that will get through more often than not. In the second, though, he had another ball come his way and it looked to me like he had time to get in front of it. Instead, he went for a backhand and it got through. As I alluded to above, it was called a hit but it looked like an error to me.

Generally, I’ve been on the more optimistic side of the Devers defense debate, but there’s no doubt he is running out of chances to prove it. I’m willing to give him this season to do just that, but if we’re still having the same conversations next November, it could be time to start thinking about a change. I’m not reading munch into early spring defense, but it hasn’t gone well.

It’s also worth noting he’s had a tough start at the plate. Devers hasn’t played a ton this spring but after going 0-3 in this one he is now 2-15 to start his 2021, though one of those hits is a home run. I’m, of course, super not worried about his bat. In fact, even with respect to his slow starts I mentioned above he was actually quite good in those springs. So maybe this reverses the trend.

Other Notes

  • Before the game, Alex Cora mentioned that it could be an uphill battle for Franchy Cordero and Ryan Brasier to be ready for Opening Day after both got late starts at camp. The latter opens up a bit of competition in the bullpen, of which Phillips Valdez figures to be part. He did not make a great impression today. His first inning of work was solid, hitting a batter but otherwise tossing a clean frame. In his second inning, however, he walked three and gave up a single while recording just one out. Valdez was mostly a one-inning pitcher last year, particularly in the latter half of the season, but still as a guy fighting for a roster spot this isn’t the impression he’s looking for. In his first appearance of the spring, he tossed a scoreless inning with a walk and two strikeouts.
  • Also pitching in this game who have not been mentioned were: Matt Hall, who doesn’t figure to play much of a role this year and allowed three runs on two hits, two walks and two strikeouts over an inning of work; John Schreiber, a recent waiver claim who will serve as low-end bullpen depth and allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning of work on two hits and a walk; Thad Ward, one of the top prospects in the organization who will start the year at Double-A and struggled a bit today, recording just two outs and allowing one run, hitting a batter, walking another and giving up a single while also being hurt by a Jonathan Araúz error; and Durbin Feltman, who is looking to get his development back on track this year and struggled in this one although his velocity was up in the mid-to-high 90s again. He allowed a run on pair of hits and a walk with a strikeout.
  • Getting hits today were: Alex Verdugo, who started in center field and went 1-3 with a single; Michael Chavis, who started at second base and continued his nice spring with a 2-3 day that included a pair of singles; Yairo Muñoz, who got the start at DH and went 1-3 with a single; Marcus Wilson, who started in left field and went 1-2 with a single; Gilberto Jimenez, one of the organization’s top prospects who got his first spring action and hit a bloop double; Jonathan Araúz, who knocked in a pair with a single; Chad De La Guerra, who in my opinion has an underrated chance at contributing a bit this year and knocked in a run with a single; and Jeter Downs, who came in as a late-game sub and had a single.