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Red Sox 6, Braves 3: Rafael Devers is feeling it

And Nick Pivetta is missing a whole lot of bats.

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MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier on Sunday, we posted the first poll of our superlatives prediction series, asking who people thought would end up being the Red Sox MVP in 2022. It is still early in the voting, but so far Rafael Devers is running away with things, and nothing he has done in spring training will make people change their minds. Boston’s third baseman hit yet another homer on Sunday, his sixth of the spring, to help give Boston a 6-3 win over the defending champs. Here are the notes from the day.

Two homers for the offense

A couple of weeks ago after the Red Sox officially brought Trevor Story aboard and he started getting into game action, we’ve seen sneak previews of the regular season lineup. It has specifically featured a lot of Rafael Devers hitting second, a spot Alex Cora has said he really likes for the third baseman. I’d say he feels comfortable there. As mentioned above, Devers smashed his sixth homer of the season in this game, this one off Braves starter Huascar Ynoa. We know that Devers can hit some pitches you wouldn’t typically expect to result in hard contact, and on this one he went and got one below the zone, golfing it up and over the right field wall. Devers is now tied with Bryce Harper for the second most homers in baseball this spring, with those two starts trailing only the Yankees Kyle Higashioka.

Further down the lineup, Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t having quite the same kind of spring as Devers, but he’s shown off a better swing than fans in Milwaukee saw last season when the outfielder was arguably the worst hitter in baseball. Bradley homered off Ynoa as well, in the same inning as Devers just a bit earlier. For Bradley, it was his third homer of the spring on which he was able to turn around a fastball on the inner half for a laser of a line drive that hung up and snuck up and over the yellow line in right field. The Red Sox don’t need Bradley to be an MVP candidate out in right field, but with it looking like he’ll get the bulk of time against right-handed pitching, they need him to make strides from last season. The early returns look good in that regard.

Nick Pivetta keeps missing bats

Much has been written, and rightfully so, about the questions on the Red Sox pitching staff, and they very much need someone to step up behind Nathan Eovaldi, especially now with Chris Sale on the shelf. Nick Pivetta would seem to be the favorite to make that leap, slotting in behind Eovaldi in this spring rotation. He made his final tune-up start of the spring on Sunday, working around some early trouble for what was ultimately a good showing. The righty left a 3-1 fastball right down the pipe for new Brave Matt Olson, who smashed a solo homer as the second batter Pivetta faced. That was followed up with a walk and a single, but then the Red Sox starter settled in. That Olson home run was the only run Pivetta would give up in the game, eventually going five innings, a double and four singles along with the homer while only walking the one and striking out six.

Last season, Pivetta entered the rotation as a back-end arm with fair questions around whether or not he’d even be able to stick in the rotation all year. He surprised a lot of people with his performance, and while it was up and down through the year he ended up being an average starter who took the ball every five days. That’s no small feat. Now, the Red Sox need him to take a step forward, and the stuff we’ve seen this spring has been a good sign. Over 15 23 innings, he’s struck out 22 while only walking six. There’s still been some hard contact, which is really what holds him back, but it’s hard not to be at least a little encouraged by the stuff in the preseason.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Other Notes

  • At the start of last season, one of the biggest criticisms of Alex Cora was his insistence on Enrique Hernández as his leadoff man. That was a valid criticism early in the year, and Hernández did end up losing that spot for a short spell, but he got it back and he held down the role beautifully in the second half. Now it’s his spot with no qualms from people like me, and he’s looking good in spring. After a two-hit effort on Sunday his OPS this spring is up to .934.
  • Two batters who are struggling this spring are J.D. Martinez and Christian Vázquez. They each had rough days in this one as well, with Martinez getting a single but also striking out twice while Vázquez went 0-3 with a strikeout. Their respective OPS’s this spring are .506 and .434.
  • Cora has pointed to Hirokazu Sawamura as one of the relievers he’s looking at to step up this season in a bullpen littered with question marks. He had one really rough outing this spring that has skewed his stats, but his other three have been workmanlike. On Sunday, he tossed a perfect sixth inning.
  • Other Red Sox players with hits in this game who have not been mentioned were: Yolmer Sánchez, who was reassigned to minor-league camp this weekend but still got this start at second base and went 1-3 with a double and a run scored; Bobby Dalbec, who started at first base and later shifted to third and went 1-4 with a single and a run scored while also striking out twice; and Travis Shaw, who came in late and played first base, getting an RBI single in his lone at bat.
  • Other Red Sox pitchers who appeared in this game who have not been mentioned were: John Schneider, who is a sleeper to make the Opening Day roster but struggled in this one, giving up two runs in an inning thanks to a single, a pair of walks and a wild pitch, while also striking out one; and Tyler Danish, a minor-league signing from earlier in the winter who worked around a single and a walk for a scoreless ninth, striking out two.