MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers blows a bubble during the April 3 game against the Orioles.

We’re more than one week into the 2021 season. We’ve already seen some interesting results as the Sox (who played Saturday night) went from 0-3 to 4-3, and we have a few questions:

1. What does Christian Arroyo bring to the table?

Arroyo has been one of the surprises of 2021 so far, if only because he wasn’t expected to play much of a role on this team and yet he’s started at second four times to Kiké Hernandez’s two. Arroyo was just OK in his audition last year, hitting .240 with a .736 OPS in 14 games while playing a perfectly fine second base.

One week into the 2021 season and he appears to be the primary option at the position. But he’s just 3-for-17 with five strikeouts and zero walks at the dish. He does have two doubles, though neither one was hit hard; he had a bouncing grounder up the third-base line and a blooper that fell down the right-field line.

Simply put, he hasn’t added anything to the Red Sox’ lineup on days he’s been in there, and it’s a bit confusing why manager Alex Cora has used him at the leadoff spot once already. He’s not hitting the ball hard on his outs — his average exit velocity is worse than 97% of big leaguers this year. And he’s not controlling the strike zone — his 42% chase rate is worse than 95% of big leaguers.

Because the Sox don’t have a true center fielder and Hernandez is getting a lot of time there, it seems like Arroyo is going to get his chances, at least until the team decides to make a move and pluck Michael Chavis, Jeter Downs or Jarren Duran out of Worcester.

2. Can Rafael Devers rediscover his ability to play third base?

Let’s get this out of the way: The Red Sox aren’t moving Devers off third base unless they absolutely have to. Bobby Dalbec was considered a good defender at third in the minor leagues, but Devers has never before played first base, Dalbec hasn’t played third regularly since 2019 and it would take a lot to convince Cora to switch them in the middle of the season.

Devers’ defensive problems largely come down to two things: decision-making and throwing the ball. He’s cut off Xander Bogaerts from making a play at shortstop twice already, and once following it up with an ill-advised throw over the second baseman’s head. With so many different alignments in the shift, Devers will hopefully smooth some of this out with time and comfort. The throwing issues aren’t new. He seems to baby his throws often, requiring Dalbec to make some sensational scoops to preserve the out at first. Bogaerts used to tell him to throw through the first baseman’s chest, and it seems like Devers could use that advice right now.

Offensively, forget about it. Devers will be fine. He’s hitting the ball harder than most. He’s also chasing bad pitches more often than most, but that’s what he does. He’ll clean up his plate discipline and go right back to being a force at the plate.

3. How long of a leash will Garrett Richards get?

Before Saturday night, he had one bad start, and if we know anything about Chaim Bloom, he’s not reading into one start. Heck, he’s not even reading into four starts.

After sending Tanner Houck down to Worcester following Houck’s incredible four starts to begin his big-league career, Bloom said it was too small of a sample size to make any judgments.

You can guess what that means for Richards then.

He was given $10 million to play for the Sox this year, making him the most expensive free agent Bloom has signed since taking over this club two years ago. General managers tend to give their most expensive additions plenty of rope before making any changes, and unless Richards displays signs of injury, expect him to keep getting chances out of the rotation, no matter how poor the results.

The concerning part is that he displayed poor command for the majority of the spring, then once again looked completely out of control in his debut last weekend. He has great stuff, but the Orioles weren’t chasing it at all last Sunday, likely because the balls never looked like strikes.

4. Is Garrett Whitlock the real deal?

The Rule 5 draft pick is the story of the 2021 season so far. Akil Baddoo has a great name and a better swing for the Detroit Tigers, while Whitlock looks like an ace in the hole for the Red Sox.

His changeup looks too good to be true with late break that tails away from lefty hitters and toward the feet of right-handers. He’s throwing a 95-mph sinker to go with it, giving him two pitches that drop out of the swing path and have made him nearly unhittable through his first 5 1/3 big league innings (eight strikeouts).

He’s throwing only two pitches and it’ll be interesting to see how hitters adjust, but so far he looks like the best pickup of Bloom’s short career.

5. Should Alex Verdugo be hitting leadoff?

The Red Sox’ .235 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot ranks 29th entering Friday, and there’s no question they need to do a better job setting the table for red-hot sluggers J.D. Martinez and Christian Vazquez.

Hernandez has shown the ability to be patient and take a lot of pitches, but he hasn’t gotten on base very often through the first seven games.

Verdugo has the best contact rate on the team, making him a good fit for the two-hole. But if the Sox can’t find a better on-base guy to lead things off, it’s only a matter of time before Cora moves Verdugo up in the order or finds someone else (Vazquez, perhaps?) to do damage right away.

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