BOSTON — Manager Alex Cora rewarded Rafael Devers with $100 gift certificates to Chipotle Mexican Grill, his favorite restaurant, for every opposite-field home run he belted last year. He gave him $50 gift certificates for each walk.
That has stopped. Devers is watching his weight after he hired a nutritionist during the offseason. But he still occasionally visits Chipotle. After all, it has been his go-to restaurant since he first arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic to play professional baseball here.
“I still eat it. Not as often as I used to,” Devers told MassLive.com through a translator at Fenway Park on Saturday. “I actually did go on the day off, Monday.”
The single most important thing Devers did this past offseason was hire a nutritionist, he said.
“It helped me a lot with the dieting and trying to stay away from injuries and stuff like that,” Devers said. “I feel like that’s the biggest change.”
The 22-year-old Devers is batting .307 with a .380 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage and .813 OPS in 45 games (166 at-bats).
His batting average is 67 higher than last year’s. His on-base percentage is up 82 points from 2018.
“He’s been dominating the strike zone,” Cora said this past week.
Devers is in better shape. He clearly put on weight during the 2018 season. Injuries and a lack of production followed. The Red Sox placed him on the injured list three times last year: twice with a left hamstring strain and once with left shoulder inflammation.
“It’s not so much of a change of diet,” Devers said. “But I’m just watching my weight, making sure I stay at the same weight the whole season long. I feel good the weight I am right now.”
Devers’ strikeout percentage has dropped from 24.7% last year to 15.4% this year.
“I’m just trying to shorten up my swing with two strikes now,” Devers said. “And just trying to put the ball in play with two strikes to make things happen.”
The third baseman has adjusted to pitchers this year after they adjusted to him last year during his first full season in the majors.
“I’m watching a lot more video of the pitchers I’m about to face and kind of making adjustments through there on how they’re going to approach me,” Devers said.
Devers still is very young. He’s 22. He made his major league debut at 20.
He has experienced most of his growing pains at the majors. He continues to develop. He still has to improve defensively. He has nine errors. He’s at negative-2 defensive runs saved, per Fangraphs.com.
His errors often happen on routine plays.
He prevented a double and saved a run in the first inning May 3 in Chicago when he made an excellent sliding play to his right. But he then made an error on a routine play in the ninth inning. The Red Sox lost two batters later on a three-run walkoff homer.
Devers stood in front of his locker with a translator that night and answered questions about his mistake. He admitted speaking with the media has not been easy for him in those situations.
“It’s tough at times, especially when you make mistakes like that,” Devers said. “That’s the one part I hate about it. I don’t like to be offended. I don’t like talking much anyway. And when I do bad, it’s actually when I don’t want to talk about it. When you don’t do something right and you make a mistake, you’d rather not talk about it than actually have to answer questions. But I know that’s the way it is where I’m at.”
Devers is emotional. Cora enjoys how he speaks in English when he gets frustrated in the batter’s box.
“It’s not clean,” Cora said earlier this season about Devers’ language in the batter’s box. “But he’s awesome. I love him.”
Devers slammed his bat to the dirt after striking out multiple times earlier this season. He hasn’t done it lately though.
“I still get upset,” Devers admitted. “I just try not to show it on the field when everybody’s watching. But when I don’t have a good at-bat and stuff like that, I still get upset. But I try to hide that behind the scenes.”
Devers has a strong support system.
“I talk to my mom at least twice a day, every day,” he said. “And I talk to my brother a lot, too.”
His dad is here in Boston right now visiting him. He’s here for about a month.
“From time to time, he flies in and spends some time,” Devers said.
Sure, it’s awesome for dad to be in town to see his son surging offensively. Devers entered Saturday’s game slashing .350/.394/.567/.961 in 14 games during May.
But Devers said it’s also been nice having his father in town when he’s not playing well.
“Bad days he’s still there. He still helps me out. ‘Go get ‘em the next day.’ So when I don’t have a good day, it’s actually the biggest (thing).”
Devers also has a daughter, Rachell, who’s 3. She’s here with him. Devers said he loves fatherhood.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “I play with her all the time.”
Becoming a dad at a young age helped him mature early on and that helped him transition to the majors at such a young age.
“I’m just trying to give her everything possible,” Devers said. “Hopefully I can keep it up. At some point in life, I don’t want to ever tell her, ‘No, I can’t do this for you.’ So I want to give her everything I can.”
Devers enjoys walking around the city with coffee, but “only when it’s warm” outside.
“Not when it’s cold. When it’s cold I stay inside,” he said.
He walks back and forth from Fenway Park to his apartment. He enjoys interacting with fans.
“I have lunch downstairs in the bottom (of the apartment) and sometimes dinner there, too,” he said. “A lot of people asking for autographs, pictures. And I always take them.”
Red Sox fans on Twitter often joke all in good nature about his boyish looks. Fans will tweet about how he’s only 12 years old and hitting home runs on a school night.
He doesn’t see all that.
“I have a twitter account but I lost my password and I don’t even care about getting it back,” Devers said. “I don’t care. I don’t care about tweeting much. And the Instagram account, I just closed it because of the same thing. Sometimes I don’t have a good game and people start commenting, saying bad stuff. So I’d rather not have it around.
“When I go to Instagram, it’s just to look at news. Stuff that happened in MLB. Stuff like that. But I’d rather stay away from all that other stuff.”