There were many causes for concern after the Rays blanked the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday, but none bigger than this -- what's going on with Rafael Devers?
The slugging third baseman appeared to be favoring his right hand after a number of swings in the 5-0 loss, going so far as taking his bottom hand off the bat on the follow-through, which looks every bit as awkward as it sounds.
If he's injured, it didn't stop Devers from taking some ferocious hacks. He went 1 for 4 with a single and two strikeouts, but the aftermath of his hardest swings -- with his right hand flying off the bat and his right arm later hanging limp at his side -- raised the eyebrows of anyone paying attention.
Manager Alex Cora dismissed concerns about Devers, but he'll be a topic of conversation in Game 2 unless he can swing without appearing to be in pain.
"A few days ago everybody said he setting up the pitcher whenever he drops the bat," Cora said. "Today because he didn't get a hit, he is hurt. I mean, after 162 games, things happen and you get treatment, and you grind. Not everybody is 100 percent right now, and he is posting."
There's a difference between "posting" -- Cora's term for showing up every day and being in the lineup -- and "producing." And watching Devers swing on Thursday looked nothing like the cuts that he took as recently as Sunday in Washington, when he launched a go-ahead two-run missile over the center field fence while keeping two hands on the bat through his entire majestic follow-through.
While Devers has dropped his bat after big swings this season, it's possible his problems became exacerbated against the Yankees in Tuesday's wild card game, when he fell to one knee while swinging through a 93 mph Luis Severino fastball in the sixth inning, dropping his bat and flexing his hand.
If Devers is limited, the impact on the lineup would be significant. He's the most dangerous hitter on the team after smashing a career-high 38 homers, and with DH J.D. Martinez sidelined by a sprained ankle, the Red Sox need Devers to anchor the order.
That task becomes much more difficult vs. a Rays club that features 95+ mph velocity throughout its pitching staff, including in the right arm of Game 2 starter Shane Baz. It's worth noting that Devers never looked right on Thursday after swinging through a 100 mph fastball from Shane McClanahan in the first inning, and he'll get no reprieve on Friday.
In the past, he has followed clumsy swings with punishing ones, leading observers to wonder if was playing possum with a pitcher, but Thursday night didn't feel like that.
"Like I said a few days ago, you know, he was dropping the bat the same way, and nobody said anything," Cora said. "Actually, I heard that he was setting up pitchers with that."