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Boston’s Devers is a Perfect Fit for No. 3 Lineup Slot

March 16, 2019
Sentinel & Enterprise

By Michael Silverman

Boston Herald

TAMPA, Fla. -- The idea that Rafael Devers could hit third in the Boston Red Sox’s powerful lineup has been discussed all offseason and early spring.

With the Grapefruit League beginning to wind down, Devers’ more disciplined approach and impressive results at the plate are making the decision easier and easier for Cora.

Nothing’s final yet but nothing seems to stand in Devers’ way to land in the coveted spot hitting in between Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.

“He looks good, he looks good,” said Cora of Devers, who is hitting .438 (14-for-32) after going 1-for-3 in the Red Sox’ 14-1 wallop of a loss to the Yankees on Friday. “I think it’s too early for me to decide how we’re going to go there but so far, so good. Love the fact that he’s staying in the middle of the field. He’s not trying to hit homers. He’s been able to get a few two-strike hits and he can do that. If you tell him, he likes the spot. I told him in December when he went home for those clinics, I said ‘What do you think about hitting between Mookie and J.D.?’ He was like, ‘There’s a lot of RBIs there.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ ”

After the game, Devers’ eyes lit up at the mention of hitting third.

“It’s a big job but it’s one that I’m ready for if given the opportunity -- I’m just ready for whatever position they put me in the lineup, the best feeling for me is just to be in the lineup, period,” said Devers. “Yeah, Mookie and Benny are two guys that get on base a lot and having the protection of J.D. behind me leads to a lot of chances.”

Cora is not worried about Devers becoming overwhelmed.

“No, no, no, not him,” said Cora. “What I saw in the playoffs, kind of like, ‘Yeah, he gets it.’ Maybe you challenge him and everything slows down.”

Two days after he was scratched with a tight back, J.D. Martinez made the 2-plus hour drive to Tampa to play right field and bat third.

Obviously, the back issue was virtually a non-issue.

“He’s in that mode now of getting at-bats and getting locked in for the season,” said Cora. “Yeah, we take care of guys, but I know how it works, the madness, whenever he wants to play he’ll let me know. I’ll bring him on road trips, we’ll probably play him more than any other guy. He’ll be ready to go March 28.”

Andrew Benintendi hit an impressive leadoff first-pitch single, but he is going to take a day on Saturday to focus on a swing that has looked off-balance and unsure this spring. Coming into the game, Benintendi was 4-for-26, with just one extra base-hit, a double, no walks and seven strikeouts.

“The plan was to send the three outfielders to Bradenton all together but we talked a little bit about how he feels and where he’s at,” said Cora. Saturday “is going to be a heavy day for him.”

The plan was for Benintendi to join Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in Bradenton Sunday for that split-squad game, but he will get the day off. The three outfielders should start playing together on Monday. Cora wants the infield to also begin playing more frequently together but as always with an eye towards avoiding over-use.

“At the same time we have to make sure we don’t get caught up with playing everybody a lot the last week because last year, (Rafael) Devers was a little banged up going into Tampa, there were a few guys that played a lot and they felt it early,” said Cora. “We’ll map it out but as far as at-bats, I try to compare our guys to other teams and it seems like we’re on the same page with other teams so that’s always good.”

Ryan Brasier (pinky toe) is going to make Grapefruit League debut on Saturday.

Cora said Dustin Pedroia, who played in a minor-league game on Thursday, is doing well.

“There was a lot of action yesterday with him, I know he ran to first twice, he had like four or five groundballs,” said Cora. “He made a sliding play to his left, got up quick, made the play. Texted him last night and, you know, whatever - he’s ‘great, I’m good.’ Let’s see how he feels today and then we’ll make a decision what we’re going to do tomorrow. It was good.”

Potential Presidential candidate and Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz, wearing a “True” T-shirt, spent the entire batting practice behind home plate, hobnobbing with both Yankees and Red Sox, including Alex Cora, J.D. Martinez, Tony LaRussa, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Judge.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks quarterback and sometimes Yankees minor-leaguer, spoke with Schultz as well.