How Ceddanne Rafaela is helping the Red Sox change the conversation

How Ceddanne Rafaela is helping the Red Sox change the conversation

A stat that matters for Craig Breslow

It was a constant theme throughout spring training. How Ceddanne Rafaela was going to potentially mean so much in so many ways to the Red Sox.

As the first two months of the season unfolded, there were subtle reminders of Rafaela’s importance, mostly coming in the form of defensive flexibility. He was the guy who could offer elite defense at two key positions – center field and shortstop – on a team starved for some consistency when it came to catching the baseball.

But the discomfort that came with Rafaela’s offensive ability was hard to ignore. Maybe it was because of the leap of faith when it came to the 23-year-old’s eight-year contract extension, or his inability to keep his swing decisions in the strike zone.

Much like the Red Sox, the first third of the season seemed like a lot of running in place for Rafaela. But now? Both the player and the team are starting to take steps forward without retreating.

Coincidence? Nope. Remember, Rafaela was always going to be a key piece of this puzzle, and sure enough …

With their come-from-behind, 4-3 win over the Blue Jays Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, the Red Sox have won seven of their last nine while moving four games over .500 for the first time since May 2.

During that run, Rafaela is hitting .485 with a 1.181 OPS. His three-hit game Tuesday marked his sixth multi-hit contest in the last seven games. And, to top things off, his final hit this time around – coming in the eighth inning – just happened to complete the comeback for the Red Sox.

“It’s awesome to help the team in that situation right there,” Rafaela told reporters. “I knew that they needed me right there to put a good at-bat so I was trying to get the best pitch I could to … drive him in.”

The impact of a hot-swinging Rafaela isn’t hard to decipher, with the Red Sox now having won 12 of the 15 games the rookie has had more than one hit in. The team is also undefeated in games the speedster has stolen a base in (10-0).

The Rafaela dynamic is the latest piece of this puzzle which has helped the Red Sox find their (close to) best-case scenario, which is rooted in the development of their wave of first-year players. David Hamilton. Wilyer Abreu. And now the do-it-all kid from Curacao.

There are other elements at play during this recent hot streak. Tyler O’Neill has rediscovered his early-season groove, tying the game Tuesday night in the eighth with his third home run since arriving back in his native country. And Tanner Houck continues to be the kind of ace any team would hope for.

The entire concoction has put the Red Sox in an interesting place, sitting two games out of a Wild Card spot, with the next-closest contender for that third position – the Blue Jays – residing 5 1/2 games back of Kansas City.

For what was supposed to be a month that put the Red Sox on their death bed thanks to a three-week stretch against the likes of the Braves, Phllies, Yankees and seemingly talented Blue Jays, it has seen Alex Cora’s club take an unexpected turn for the better.

And serving as the shining example of this upswing is Rafaela, the player who was always going to be one of the straws counted on to stir this drink.