Mookie Betts

Red Sox' young stars have different paths to improvement

Red Sox' young stars have different paths to improvement

Last names bonded by alliteration have made it easy to lot Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi together.

The rebound of a Red Sox offense that had a brownout in 2017 requires not only the success of J.D. Martinez, but improvement among at least some of those four. How they get there, however, will vary. 

A particularly strong 2016 set up that group for a letdown in 2017. A linear climb became the expectation, their excellent numbers from '16 an unfair measuring stick.


“Every year is different. The pitchers aren’t getting worse, you know, they’re getting better,” Bogaerts said. “There’s not a lot of guys throwing lower 90s on a consistent basis, there’s a lot of guys throwing harder. The bullpen is throwing harder. It’s not like the pitching is getting worse. 

“The [2016 season] was probably one of the best years we’ve had, I would say, even in the [team's offensive] history, it’s pretty much right up there. We had a lot of guys playing great baseball. And last year was a bit different. But we still scored runs.”

Being better in 2018 will mean different focuses for the Killer B’s.


Early in camp, Benintendi noted he wanted more consistency. Players have said that forever. For-ever. So what does it mean? As sweet as his swing may be, he can't collect a hit daily. There’s a limit on what anyone can do.

“Last year, I went through several like 0-for-20s it felt like,” Benintendi said. “It’ll jump on you quick. You get four or five at-bats a night and you don’t get a hit for four games and you’re 0-for-20, and it jumps on you like that. I want to kind of recognize that sooner, and maybe tweak something here or there. Something small, nothing big, just to kind of maybe avoid those kinds of longer slumps. I think last year, it was like every other month was terrible. I think if I can just do a little better here or there, it’s just going to make it overall [better] numbers-wise, help the team win.”

Benintendi hit .333 in April. What followed: .204 in May, .295 in June, .222 in July, .333 in August and .238 in the final month. His worst stretch was 0-for-26 in seven straight hitless games in May. He was 2-for-25 for seven games in July, 1-for-21 in a five-game run in September.

Those will happen occasionally. But Benintendi was also in his first major league season, dealing with the adjustments for the first time. That's reason alone to think he can be better.

Bradley is now entering his sixth year, and streaky is a label that's stuck with him. He drew as many walks in May as he did in July and August combined. 

“I don’t like to feed into that so-called streaky thing,” Bradley said earlier in camp. “Obviously, the game is about making adjustments and I want to be able to do that better on the fly.”


At the start of camp, Betts talked about the clubhouse not having enough fun in 2017. They have the power to shape their worlds, their bubbles. Maybe more than anything in 2018, they need to tap into their own will, their own ideas. To assert themselves, be it in action or in words.

Those may not be publicly visible expressions. They likely won’t be, in fact.

Benintendi, Bradley and Betts can appear reserved publicly when they’re not dancing in the outfield. Don’t expect that to change. 

“I mean I think he has it in him,” Brock Holt said of Benintendi. “But that’s kind of just who he is. … He’s not shy really around me or the guys anymore, but new people he meets, he’s pretty quiet. You’ll see it. Just who he is. Just how he grew up, and you know, I say, don’t change who you are. ‘Cause you’re Andrew Benintendi. Everybody wants a piece of Andrew Benintendi.”

If there is a shell to come out of for any of these guys, that’s one thing. But a personality type is not going to change. At most, it evolves with time, not overnight.

“I just kind of want to be me,” Betts said. “However the future goes, it goes. Right now I just want to be me. I'm going to be someone who smiles and brings joy to the locker room and to the field. Kind of everywhere. So I don't want to try and be something I'm not.”

Nor should anyone want him to be.

“I don’t try to look at myself as any particular, veteran or rookie or anything like that,” said Bradley, the oldest of the bunch, nearing his 28th birthday in April. “I just like to consider myself someone who leads by example. I let other people decide. I know that I go about my business the right way and I think people look at that and they respect that and I think.

“I’ve always heard when someone looks at you, they shouldn’t be able to tell whether you’re winning or losing. You should always win with class and if you lose you show respect. And that’s what I’ve tried to live by, so. Everybody says, you know, you never smile, this and that. You never do this and that, you never get too excited. 

“There’s so many highs and lows in life. In general. You just got to be able to put things in perspective and ride it out. Because those highs can get really high and those lows can get really low. So you don’t wanna try to waiver too much.”

Patience is a quality Bradley says he has gained a greater appreciation for as a young father.

Another form of assertiveness: speaking up when hurt, knowing when it’s time to pull the plug. Knowing yourself. That’s not only on the player, but a lot does fall to the player. 

“I just should not have played, and I did, and that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes I made,” said Bogaerts, who had a bad hand for much of 2017. “I just don’t like being on the bench. I try to do my best, I try to stay healthy. I try to perform my best. I mean, I can’t control that I’m going to get hit with a ball, regardless of where. 

“That’s in the past, I’m over it. You just try to move on, learn about yourself.”


There are plain old mechanical things to tune. Bogaerts, for example, is trying to hit the ball in the air more often and to take better routes to grounders.

“A lot of talk about hit the ball into the air, not a lot of ground balls, ground balls are outs,” Bogaerts said.

Is this a launch angle conversation with new hitting coach Tim Myers?

“Not too extreme,” Bogaerts said. “Some guys are way extreme. It works with some guys. … Just try to listen and be open-minded about it.”

Manager Alex Cora has been working directly with Bogaerts on his fielding. Sometimes he goes straight to the ball when he'd be better off squaring himself to it.

At the plate, Bogaerts is an interesting case, because he can hit for power and average. He’s done both. Finding out what is closer to the norm for him — and for all of these guys — is a great hook to the 2018 Sox season. Is Betts' 2017 or 2016 performance closer to the "real" Betts?

Whatever their norms might be, these are individualized paths that are joint in the same lineup, and often the same conversation.

"I like to do a lot of everything,” Bogaerts said. “I like to run, I like to hit, I like to do everything. The years I’ve won two Silver Sluggers, I’ve won it different ways. I won one hitting a lot of base hits [in 2015, with seven home runs] and the other one I did off like power and like RBIs [in 2016, with 21 home runs]. … I don’t even think either way is bad."


Drellich's Red Sox Opening Day roster picture

Drellich's Red Sox Opening Day roster picture

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Opening Day is later this month. As a spring-training exercise, here’s one way to look at the Red Sox' current roster situation.

The roster positions are numbered to 25, with a presumed 13 bench players and 12 pitchers.

There seem to be three competitions: Three players for two spots at the back of the bench, the final spot in the rotation (at least to begin the season while Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright rehab) and the final spot in the bullpen.

One perspective:

CATCHER (Alex Cora has said these two are his catchers, for those watching Blake Swihart’s progress closely.)
1. Christian Vazquez
2. Sandy Leon (no minor-league options)

3. Mitch Moreland
4. Eduardo Nunez
5. Xander Bogaerts
6. Rafael Devers
7. Hanley Ramirez

8. Jackie Bradley
9. Andrew Benintendi
10. Mookie Betts
11. J.D. Martinez

12. BUBBLE-ISH: Brock Holt (options)
13. BUBBLE: Blake Swihart (no options), Deven Marrero (no options)


14. Chris Sale
15. David Price
16. Rick Porcello
17. Drew Pomeranz
18. Fifth starter, Brian Johnson (out of options, could be in bullpen)
BUBBLE: Hector Velazquez (options), Roenis Elias (options)

19. Craig Kimbrel
20. Carson Smith
21. Robby Scott
22. Joe Kelly
23. Matt Barnes
24. Heath Hembree (out of options)
25. BUBBLE: Brandon Workman (options), Austin Maddox (options), Fernando Rodriguez (minors deal)

COMING BACK EVENTUALLY: Tyler Thornburg, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright



Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Often, Dustin Pedroia is not one to expound on his feelings publicly. His interviews with media can be amusing and witty, but they also can be terse. In 2017, they tended toward the latter. 

A welcome-to-spring session with reporters on Saturday brought out 20 minutes of another side of Pedroia, one that seemed almost eager to expound. He was cast in a poor light last season, the year's troubles started to compound early.

Pedroia said Saturday the knee he had repaired in the offseason had been bothering him since April. He called the surgery “the best decision I could have made.” 

“My knee doesn’t hurt,” Pedroia said. “Last year, waking up and walking around was painful. It’s not fun to live your life like that. Having the surgery, I could tell immediately that I was feeling better. Not one time did I have any pain in the entire process. Now, it’s just building strength and getting back to being athletic and things like that and your body picks that up quick.”

Pedroia, 34, didn’t share a timetable. The initial expectation, at the point Pedroia went for the surgery, was that he would be out until at least May.

He shared how he thinks the Red Sox need greater leadership as a group, not just from one individual.

"I’ve thought a lot about this, you know and I’m thinking, man, you know, you guys write all these stories about how we don’t have enough leadership and all this stuff,” Pedroia said. “I’m like, thinking about it, I’m like, when did the Red Sox start getting successful? From 2002 or whatever on. You know, they had Tek [Jason Varitek]. But not only did they have Tek, but they had David [Ortiz], they had Trot Nixon, they had Johnny Damon. There was a ton of core players that were leaders. 

“And then you look at the next championship they won, they had David, Tek, Mike Lowell, Alex [Cora]. There’s multiple leaders. And then ’13, there’s multiple leaders. So I think our core group, our guys that [are young], it’s my responsibility, I need them and they need me and we all have to work together. Because it’s not one leader. And everybody always says that, it’s not one guy in baseball. 

“We have to go be together and know that. I know David’s gone, but you know when Tek was done, we were okay. Because he built that into David, and David’s built that into me to where I got to do a better job of finding a way to get everybody to realize that it’s not one guy, it’s everybody. And that’s — after thinking about it — that’s what it is."

There was more. A lot more. The team, Pedroia said, became too results-oriented in the short term last year.

“It was more ‘Hey, what are our results today? We’ve got to do good today,’” Pedroia said. “‘Bogey’s got to get four hits today. Mookie’s got to live up to huge expectations,’ instead of being who you are, and that’s especially in this environment that’s how you have to be. You have to understand you’re going to be bad and you’re going to be great.”

Twenty minutes in, the second-to-last question was a brief return to last year’s form. Terse.

Pedroia was asked whether there was a team discussion about the handling of the Manny Machado and Dennis Eckersley incidents.

"Yeah, we talked about those things,” Pedroia said, matter of factly. 

It was by far the shortest answer he gave Saturday and stood out for that reason.

Pedroia and everyone else listening knew well that the question, which he did technically answer, was meant to provide some level of insight into those discussions. 

The conclusion: last year still isn’t easy to talk about. Which may be a positive sign. Consider: Pedroia’s reputation as a team leader was questioned. A prideful person who believes in his work, who cares about his standing and his reputation, would be made uncomfortable by last year’s proceedings.

A follow-up question came, and it was something of a breakpoint. Did those discussions resolve the issues quickly, was anything lingering?

He could have given a similar yes-no answer again. 

He didn’t.

“Yeah, no, I mean, I think as a team, no, we were together all the time. You know, those things happen,” Pedroia said. “I mean it’s baseball. I think when you sit back and look at it. Could it have been handled differently? Without question. I mean, 100 percent. It’s like everything in life. You make mistakes and then you don’t make mistakes. So, you know you learn from it, you move forward, you understand if you’re in another situation like that, if you want to do something different, do something different. And that’s what we all took out of it.”

On Saturday, he did something different.