Red Sox

Chili Davis explains how Xander Bogaerts worked through slump

Chili Davis explains how Xander Bogaerts worked through slump

BOSTON — On a night the Red Sox turned a triple play, the Red Sox player who mattered most was the one infielder uninvolved: Xander Bogaerts, the shortstop who came into a 10-4 win over the Cardinals hitting .178 since the start of July.

Bogaerts had three hits Tuesday, including a line single that was part of an eight-run fifth inning.

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The arrival of Eduardo Nunez and Devers has almost served to hide the shortstop that plays between them. Almost. But Bogaerts remains essential.

To hitting coach Chili Davis, Bogaerts appeared to be coming around during the last homestand.

“Upper body was getting over his lower body, getting over his legs too soon,” Davis said. “So [he was] trying to stay behind the ball and just doing drills to feel himself staying behind the ball, give himself a chance to read the ball a little better. And I thought he had some nice at-bats on the road. ... Tonight, you could see the aggressiveness back, the bat speed.”

But everything seems to tie back to Bogaerts’ right hand — both in terms of health and mechanics, and even communication about it. The top hand, and how to use it.

The process to get Bogaerts here has, at times, been painful. He was hit by a pitch on that hand on July 6.

“It's still a little bit in there,” Bogaerts said. “Some days are a little worse than others. It's something I've never dealt with in my career. You’ve just got to go out there, it's the end of the season, we're in a pretty good place right now as a team. You don't want to be on the bench right now. You just want to battle through stuff.”

Staying on the field is one matter. Getting your swing to a good place is another.

“Being a right-handed hitter, hitting right-handed, you know your strong hand is your right hand,” Davis said. “You want that to be your sort of … power hand, the one that speeds the barrel of the bat up through the ball. But it was leading the way. 

“It was coming a little choppy, kind of leading down on the ball, which when that starts going that way, everything starts going that way with it. So when he gets like more punchy with his swing, it keeps everything back and it explodes through the ball. 

“That’s kind of what he explained to us, Victor [assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez] and myself last homestand. When we got an understanding of what he was thinking, then it was like, 'Oh, because you’re preaching top hand, top hand, top hand' — and you know, top hand isn’t supposed to produce pop ups. But it can, if you do it the wrong way.”

The trouble for Bogaerts was parsing the proper action from the improper.

“In his mind, there was a misunderstanding in how he uses his top hand,” Davis said. “You know, and once he understood it, it got him back, it actually fixed a few things with him. He’s a smart kid and he takes things sometimes, I would say, literally. You know what I mean? 

“And when that happens, it’s confusing, because he’s trying to do the right thing, and it’s confusing, and it’s like, ‘Why am I doing everything I think I’m supposed to do, but then it’s not working?’ But then, when I look at my videos, I’m really not doing what I think I’m supposed to do, I’m doing something else.’ 

“And in essence, he was doing the right move on video, but he thought it was not the right move. He’s got a constant routine every day that he goes through and he sticks with it. He sticks with it. And he is so regimented with his routine that if you do anything wrong in that routine, for him, it carries into the game.”

Sox manager John Farrell echoed that sentiment, noting how important it is for Bogaerts to carry his batting practice successes into games. 

The injury may have been what threw Bogaerts off course to begin with.

“I know his hand bothered him yeah longer than we all know,” Davis said. “Because he was, he took a few days off and he was back in the lineup. And it doesn’t heal that fast. So that could have been another reason why all that stuff started happening.

“I can’t pinpoint when he started struggling, but, I know that might have — that didn’t help. Hopefully his hand’s feeling better and you know, if we get him hot, and Mookie [Betts] is swinging well. All the guys. Hanley [Ramirez has] been swinging the bat better. This is that stretch where you need everybody to start participating, picking each other up.”

That may be the case after every Sox starter had a hit Tuesday. 

Because Bogaerts was doing so poorly for such a prolonged time, the mental wear was impossible to avoid. Davis saw it too. 

Now, Bogaerts seems to have a handle on his swing.

“Sometimes you're wondering what you're even doing up there after you see the at-bat you had is pretty bad,” Bogaerts said. “Sometimes you have a good swing and can't do anything about it. Just try to take the positive from those type of stuff and move forward.”

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press