Jarren Duran still feels he needs to earn a spot after breakout year, season-ending surgery

BOSTON — Jarren Duran hobbled through the Red Sox clubhouse prior to Friday’s game with a walking boot on his left foot and crutches under his arms.

On a night when the Red Sox were beaten up by the Orioles 11-2 and dropped six games back of the third wild-card spot, Duran’s down-and-out status served as an apt metaphor for his team.

Duran had surgery on his left big toe on Aug. 30 to repair a flexor tendon he’d injured trying to climb a wall in New York on a home run. The surgery ended his season, though he’s expected to be ready for spring training.

It marked a disappointing end to an immensely successful season for the 26-year-old. Though he hit just .196 with a .696 OPS in 17 games in August before the injury, Duran finished the year hitting .295 with an .828 OPS and 120 OPS+ in 102 games.

“He is important for us,” manager Alex Cora said. “There’s a reason he was still in the organization when the season started. There’s a reason we were patient, there’s a reason he got called up right away when (Adam Duvall) went down. … He’s a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish in the future.”

Duran’s night-and-day transformation from last year was among the brightest spots this season for the Red Sox. After hitting .221 with a .645 OPS in 58 games last year, Duran turned himself around and seized an opportunity when Duvall broke his wrist earlier in the year. Even when he returned in early June, the Red Sox opted to keep Duran with the big-league club because he’d made such an impact.

His ability to get on base, put pressure on the pitcher with his speed and advance into scoring position helped the Red Sox on more than one occasion and it’s something they’ve missed in his absence when they’ve needed it down the stretch.

“He was a big part of what we were trying to do running-wise, the aggression,” Cora said. “The one-dimensional lineup, that is hard sometimes to put pressure on the opposition, (without) the baserunning threat. We’ve got some guys that can run right now if we play (Ceddanne) Rafaela and we got Trevor (Story) in the lineup, but having multiple guys to do that, it puts the opposition in a tough spot. Maybe game calling becomes different, you get more pitches to hit because they’re rushing. So that’s something that we really enjoy when he was playing.”

Duran’s absence is far from the main reason the Red Sox are fading, but his speed threat still added an element to the Red Sox’s lineup that jump-started the offense.

“I feel more terrible about myself for getting hurt and not being able to do anything for the team,” Duran said on Friday. “I’m just kind of sitting here like nothing right now. I know nobody’s disappointed in me but I’m disappointed in myself for getting hurt.”

He gave a measured assessment of his breakout season.

“I’m never satisfied,” he said. “Honestly, just get better in every part of my game. It’s baseball. We all know the second you get satisfied, this game will punch you in the mouth.”

With Duvall entering free agency this winter, the Red Sox could opt to move forward with Duran in center, but he knows one strong season isn’t guaranteeing him anything, especially with so many moving parts in the Red Sox’s outfield this winter.

“You can’t go into spring like you have a spot,” he said. “That’s when you get satisfied. You gotta go in like, ‘I gotta earn my spot’ every time. That’s just my mentality. I gotta earn my creed here. Just because I had one good year, that’s nothing.”

Duran expects to get the soft cast off his foot within the next week but likely will stay in the walking boot for now to protect the surgically repaired toe, a procedure he had done by the same doctor who performed surgery on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ toe in 2021.

Duran admitted he’s had a hard time not being able to do his usual workouts and is hopeful he’ll be able to return with the same speed and agility that made him an asset on the basepaths with 24 steals this season.

“They all tell me I have nothing to worry about but I’ve never been hurt before so obviously there’s my self-doubt, like, I hope I come back,” he said. “They all have the confidence in the world in me and what we’re gonna do so I’m sure I’ll come back 100 percent.”

(Photo of Jarren Duran: Wendell Cruz / USA Today)

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