BOSTON — His bat was always going to put him back in the mix at third base. A month of work on defense should be a big help in keeping him there.
Josh Rutledge, 5-for-12 with four walks in his last four games, had a great day at the plate Saturday, going 2-for-2 with three walks. He added another hit Sunday, and is hitting .269 with a .352 on-base percentage on the season.
Rutledge is not slugging much, .321. But the ability to get on base alone is valuable to the Sox at a position that’s been so poor for them.
“I felt like early, swing was feeling a little better. And then as of the last couple weeks it had been, it hadn’t been feeling all that great,” Rutledge said before play June 7, the day that four-game stretch began. “Been doing a lot of work and the last few days, it’s been feeling a lot better. That’s all you can do, just work, can’t control anything else.
“Sometimes you just get in the cage and you don’t even realize you’re doing something and then it kind of turns into a habit. So you got to go back and look at what you were doing before, and usually it takes a little while to get that feeling to feel normal again. So, that’s kind of where it’s at right now.”
There was about a month in between the time Rutledge started and completed a game at third base. After a rough night at the position on May 12, he didn’t get back to third for all nine innings until Saturday, June 10. Then again, on June 11.
Deven Marrero stepped in and offered some stability in that time, but didn't hit well. Pablo Sandoval has since come back and looked terrible. Re-enter Rutledge, a Rule 5 pick who has to stay on the roster — and has the versatility and offensive potential to keep himself on it.
Rutledge has been around the big leagues for some time, parts of six seasons now. But inexperience played a factor for him at the hot corner. He now has 26 career major league starts there, plus another six in the minors.
In the month while Rutledge was out, he worked hard with Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield to make sure the next opportunity that arose at third base would look better with the glove.
“It’s a tough place to play anyway,” Rutledge said last week in New York, before he got his chance. “I feel like that, the routine balls, they were feeling fine. I don’t know, it was weird, ‘cause like when I was playing there earlier, I feel like I was getting a lot of balls — ‘cause really I hadn’t played over there all that much. When I was, earlier this year, I feel like I was getting a lot of balls that I had never really gotten that particular one, and really didn’t know how to play it exactly. So, since then, we’ve worked on those and you know that’s just part of it.
Before most games, Rutledge will take grounders at both second base and third base. Occasionally he’ll go to shortstop and first base as well.
The hot corner isn’t all about scorchers. It’s about angles when charging, choices in stride.
“There’s a lot of stuff that depends on it,” Rutledge said. “There was a few slow rollers that basically were hit just when I was running in, they were just far enough in front of me to where I was completely extended and the runner was quick enough to where I was trying to throw on that next step.
“But the angle you were at, you couldn’t get an arm angle. You either have to basically do like an in-between step on one, and make sure you catch it obviously [on a] short hop, or you have to catch it fully extended and then make sure you take an extra step to throw. So it’s just certain little things like that that are new to you.”
Sox manager John Farrell said in May that he didn’t think the Red Sox’ woes at third base were a matter of inexperience. But with Rutledge, it had to be. A month of work has better positioned him at one of the hardest positions.