Opposing pitchers are learning how hard it is to keep Rafael Devers in the ballpark. And if they need a reminder, he lets them stew on it while he moseys around the bases.
If it seems like Devers is suddenly taking his sweet time on home run trots, it's not your imagination. The slugging third baseman has homered in each of his last four games, and let's just say he's not expending any extra energy as he circles the bases.
In Wednesday's 10-1 wipeout of the woeful A's, Devers smoked a hanging changeup from James Kaprielian into the visiting bullpen for his 16th homer. What followed is now becoming standard operating procedure, as Devers admired the flight of his 387-foot line drive and then commenced a leisurely circumnavigation that would make David Ortiz proud.
Clocking in at 29 seconds, the trot highlighted just how comfortable Devers is becoming with the idea that he can do pretty much anything he wants at the plate.
"Let the kids play, that's what they say, right?" said manager Alex Cora. "And he's only 25, so I think he's dominating the game and I don't think people take it personal. It's the other way around. Sometimes we're too humble in certain areas, they're such humble kids that show up every day and play and heads down and sometimes it's cool to enjoy."
Devers has every right to love what he's doing right now, and he's stopping to smell the roses. As a rookie in 2017, his average home run trot timed in at just over 20 seconds. This year, he's averaging a career-high 28 seconds, but that number might as well belong to Rickey Henderson, based on his recent saunters.
Devers took 32 seconds to admire a three-run blast over the Fenway bullpens on Monday vs. the Mariners. That came on the heels of a 30-second jaunt after his absurd opposite-field homer in Seattle, which followed a 31-second trot in that same park. As a means of comparison, he raced around the bases in 24 seconds on his season-opening homer vs. Gerrit Cole in New York.
So what's changed? Not much, except Devers is coming out of his shell. The barrel-chested slugger might be the hottest hitter in baseball -- only Yankees slugger Aaron Judge compares at the moment -- and with .332-16-40-.991 numbers, he has earned the right to spend as much time on the bases as he wants.
"Honestly, he's one of the best hitters in the big leagues," Cora said. "There's a lot of guys having great seasons. Judge, (Jose) Ramirez, but he shows up every day. We're happy that he's hitting second for us on a daily basis and play(ing) third base. The way he acted in spring training, we had a feeling that it was going to be something like this and it's coming true."
For one day, we will not speculate on how much the cost of Devers's next contract is soaring. Instead, let's just luxuriate in the hitter he has become. He bad-ball swings like Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and runs the bases like Vlad Jr., who's averaging nearly 29 seconds per home run trot with the Blue Jays.
"Around the league, people know who he is," Cora said. "We saw it in spring training. When we played the Braves, everybody went to him. When we played the Rays, everybody went to him. What he did in the playoffs last year was outstanding, so he keeps getting better."
So let him take as long as he wants. After all, who among us doesn't admire a job well done?