Red Sox

Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Blake Swihart’s strong spring seems to have the Red Sox more inclined to deal one of their natural utility infielders, such as Brock Holt or Deven Marrero, rather than Swihart, a converted catcher with high upside who's getting a look in other roles.
 
"Sounds like they’re holding Swihart to open," a rival executive said. "More likely to move a utility guy."
 
A true utility guy, that is.

MORE RED SOX

The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported Sunday that Marrero has been drawing interest from other teams.

"We do have depth with our middle infielders," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "However, [I] would not get into potential trade discussions."
 
Swihart, who turns 26 on April 3, is most valuable as a catcher. But he could still be useful in a bench role for the 2018 Red Sox, and a win-now mentality may be the driving force here. (It is possible, as well, that there is nothing available via trade for Swihart that has piqued the Sox’ interest. Marrero or Holt wouldn’t require as much in return.)
 
The potential drawback is that Swihart won’t grow much if he’s not playing every day -- and in particular, if he's not catching every day. But the Sox may be be at a juncture where they feel his bat is a worthwhile experiment off the bench, at least for this season. They can figure out his future -- and their future at backstop -- later.
 
"He’s a great athlete," Cora told reporters on Sunday. "We’ve seen it in the batter’s box. It’s not only the results, but the way he’s driving the ball to left field as a left-hander, the quality of at-bats as a right-hander. [On Saturday], as a pinch-hitter, that kid was throwing 99 and he throws a breaking ball and squares a ball up."
 
Swihart entered Monday with a .283 average in Grapefruit League play, with a .905 OPS and a pair of home runs. But he does not have the infield experience that Marrero or Holt has, and the Red Sox essentially have to carry one of those two to start the year. 
 
Eduardo Nunez, the temporary replacement for Dustin Pedroia, is coming off a knee injury, and a sure-handed infielder -- Marrero’s glove is particularly good -- is a must. Rafael Devers is still coming into his own at third base. 
 
Tzu-Wei Lin is available in the minors too, and the Sox could see some redundancy with him, Holt and Marrero. Lin, unlike Marrero, has minor league options remaining. Lin also has some limited outfield experience.
 
The way the Sox roster looks now, they have two spots available for the three guys: Marrero, Holt and Swihart. Health can change that. Holt, despite being the most veteran of the group, has minor league options remaining, so he theoretically could go to Triple-A to start the season. But if the Sox don't see a role for him on this year's team any way, they'd be wiser trading him, considering he's due to make $2.225 million. It also would be the kindest choice for Holt, to let him have an opportunity elsewhere, if one exists.

MORE RED SOX

 
Swihart has played first base, third base and left field in addition to catching this spring. Perhaps, in time, there will be a way to work Swihart in behind the plate for the Sox. At the least, retaining him would be insurance if Christian Vazquez or Sandy Leon do not perform well offensively.
 
There was a clear personal-catcher system for the Red Sox in 2017. Leon was Chris Sale’s guy, for example. Manager Alex Cora said he is not taking that approach. As an auxiliary effect, moving away from a personal-catcher system might make it easier for Swihart to receive more time behind the plate, if called on.
 
"Whoever I feel comfortable with that day behind the plate, he'll catch," Cora told reporters in Florida. "Christian already caught him. Sandy's going to catch him today. And then the next turn, Christian's going to catch him. Everybody's going to work with everybody."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

How Mookie Betts keeps his 'feel' at the plate: 'Play the slice'

betts_redsox_angels_4172018.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

How Mookie Betts keeps his 'feel' at the plate: 'Play the slice'

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mookie Betts ripped a leadoff home run to left field against the Angels’ Nick Tropeano on Thursday night, the right fielder's sixth home run of the season.

He added a double down the line in left in the eighth inning, making him 7-for-13 in the three-game sweep of the Angels.

On Wednesday, a day after rocking three home runs in one night, Betts was asked if he believes in the concept of entering "the zone" at the plate.

"I think it’s more of just your focus is raised and you feel good," Betts said. "Something more of that vs. like a zone. I guess you kind of get to a point where everything you hit seems to be a hit, or seems to be a home run, or what not. But I think it’s just you’re focused more, and you’re just doing the right things more, really."

The majors' best hitter to begin the 2018 season, Betts does so many things right. How he maintains his stroke is a group effort predicated on a simple idea for an otherworldy talent.

"Mookie’s an athlete. Mookie drives on feel," hitting coach Tim Hyers said. "He’s not your guy that’s like, 'I do it this way,' and he can explain, 'I do it with X, Y, Z.' He’s more of, 'I feel this way, it feels good to me.'"

Betts is pulling the ball at a particularly high rate, higher than he ever has. But pelting left field is not a new, defined approach. Both Betts and Hyers said Betts is simply reacting to pitch location. (Betts did note that he does not make his living by going the other way.)

“They’re pitching him a certain way, and he’s taking advantage of it to the pull side,” Hyers said. “Talk to me a month from now, and they might have a different approach to him."

By then, Betts’ swing will likely look a little different than it did in Anaheim. Fluidity is central to Betts’ existence in baseball, not only in his strides across the outfield, but in his daily approach in the box. Similar to a pitcher who adapts to the stuff he has on a given day, Betts moves between different versions of himself at the plate — even if the changes are slight.

“You try and be the same every day,” Betts said. “But nobody wakes up and does the same thing every day. So, you have a little tweak here and there, and if you’re just not doing something today — it’s kind of like golf. You know, you hit a slice, you’re slicing the ball today. Just for that day, play the slice. Then, the next day may change.”

That mindset is notable because it sounds counterintuitive. Hitters spend day and night in the cage to achieve some sort of ideal, or so it long appeared. Rarely, if ever, is the ideal swing described as mutable inside a given day. Hitters talk about adapting to pitchers or game situations, but not about adapting to their own feeling at the plate.

J.D. Martinez is the scientist who reverse engineers every result. Betts is the artist who knows which paints work together and which do not, but may not always know why. In 2018, Betts' understanding of his art is growing along with his output.

Teammates for two months now, Betts and Martinez chatted about their swings during batting practice on Wednesday afternoon. They talked again later that night, after Martinez homered to the opposite field on a pitch at his ankles. (That conversation may not have been educational, however. After the game, Martinez joked after the game he should not have swung at the pitch.)

They are as different as learners are they are batters, but Martinez and Betts have taken to each other quickly

“What makes him so good are his hands,” Martinez said. “And I tell him that, I’m like, ‘Dude, don’t — if someone ever tells you to change your hands, tell ‘em to kick rocks. Because that’s what makes you, you.’

“He’s always asking questions, man. He’s always asking me, 'What are you trying to do with this pitch? What are you trying to do with that? How’d you get the ball this way, how do you get the ball in the air?’

“He wants to learn, which is cool, because he’s alway been the guy to go up there and just hit. It’s cool, I respect that because …. you’re always trying to get better, and that’s what I see in him.”

Martinez obsessively reviews video to the point that he has had to tell himself to step away. Betts reviews footage of his at-bats, but in a more deliberate fashion.

“There’s an art to watching video,” Betts said. “You have to learn how to watch video, what you’re looking for. If you’re just looking at video, looking at the big, broad picture, then you kind of get yourself in trouble. But if you kind of narrow in on certain somethings and then that’s how you kind of clean yourself up.

“Looking at just the swing. I mean, that’s pretty much it. Usually my timing is pretty close to the same all the time. I do a lot of the same movements. But the swing is different sometimes. Sometimes I swing down, sometimes I swing up, whatever.”

Martinez hasn’t exactly broken down Betts’ swing frame by frame, but he does regard Betts as somewhat atypical.

“You know, I never really got to sit there and study him and watch his swing,” Martinez said. “But being around him and seeing how athletic of a hitter he is, really, something that kind of just caught me, you look at [him] mechanically … he does a lot of things differently than most great hitters do.”

Martinez, perhaps a bit of a mad scientist — and definitely a candidate to become a hitting coach someday — didn’t elaborate at length. 

“That’s a whole ‘nother topic,” Martinez. “Just compare him to some of the best hitters. And see what you see. 

“Just the way his legs work. … His legs are really different.”

(When asked, Betts wasn’t sure exactly what Martinez was seeing, which probably speaks to their different consumption of hitting techniques more than anything else. “I’ve heard, ‘Where does the power come from?’” Betts said. “Other than that I haven’t really heard unorthodox.")

Regardless, Martinez was emphatic: the message to Betts is to stay true to himself.

When he talks to Hyers, Betts highlights the importance of his legs being “underneath” him. Betts will say that he feels calm in the batter’s box, or grounded. Or, he will say that he does not.

“And that’s his terminology,” Hyers said. “And when he keeps his stride length in order, not too far, and keeps everything underneath him, that’s when he lets the electric hands work.”

Overall, Hyers did not see Betts as unconventional as Martinez did, but Hyers noted Betts has more moving parts than some, particularly as he loads. (Watch his hands.) Betts has particularly loose shoulders, Hyers pointed out.

Either way, for a hitting coach, communicating with a “feel” hitter doesn’t sound like the easiest task. But a proclivity for “feel” does not preclude one from communicating well, and Hyers said Betts is successful conveying his thoughts.

“If he feels things get off line, just let him talk and [describe] what feels different," Hyers said. "And you just kind of start to hit those target areas where he feels uncomfortable. It’s more, we just talk through things, instead of you going, ‘OK, this is X,Y, Z.’”

Betts said Hyers does a strong job of using key words and terms, triggers to help Betts remember how he felt at a certain point in time. Baseball's best hitter to begin the 2018 season needs to do, not see.

“Always a feel for me,” Betts said. “I can look at it and mimic something, but if it doesn’t feel right, then I kind of don’t trust it."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Drellich: These Red Sox can do no wrong

Drellich: These Red Sox can do no wrong

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- We’re not firing on all cylinders yet. The scary thing is, we’re not even playing our best. Just wait until we really get going.

You’ve heard these phrases and their variants before. They’re typically worthless.

RED SOX 9, ANGELS 0

Someone is always performing poorly. Always. That’s life in a sport where the best teams lose 40 percent of the time, where the best hitters fail 7 times out of 10, and all the other cliches.

What may be most remarkable about the Red Sox’ 15-2 run is that for an extended time, we are seeing a baseball team actually bump up against its ceiling. They have four grand slams. There are two major- league teams that have only three wins.

They are actually playing their best.

“It’s very rare,” Alex Cora said Wednesday night, after becoming the first rookie manager in history to begin his career with 15 wins in 17 games. “There’s always something that is not going with the others. But right now, defense, pitching and offense -- base running too. You know, we were aggressive today  [when Eduardo Nunez was thrown out trying to stretch a double] but we’ll take that one. We’re doing better. We’re doing a lot better. And I don’t know, man. It’s just, it’s just fun to watch.

“I know how good they are. But it’s just something about them, they make you feel confident. You show up every day to work, I enjoy it, I’m having a blast with them. Not only in the dugout, but in the clubhouse. It’s fun. It’s fun to be around them. It’s a good group, and we’re growing together, we’re learning together and you know, we’re going to keep getting better."

“All systems go” rarely has more validity as a description for a baseball team than it does the Red Sox at present.

MORE DRELLICH

“I’ve been fortunate to be on some good teams and I’m sure I have [had similar stretches], but not, I don’t think, to this extent, where we’re playing good defense, we’re throwing the ball so well,” said Mitch Moreland, who homered Wednesday night in a 9-0 win over the Angels. “We’re coming up with big hits. Everybody in the clubhouse has done something to help the team win. It might just be because it’s fresh on my mind, but it stands out as good a ball as I think I’ve been a part of in the big leagues.”

Imagine how good a team can be if everyone is healthy and performing well. (By the way, the Sox are missing Xander Bogaerts.) But the best 17-game start in the 118-year history of a franchise has been inclusive of virtually everyone. Even Blake Swihart is getting some at-bats in these blowouts. 

Perhaps the bullpen feels a little left out lately, because the Sox are romping. These are thoroughly dominating performances, led by starting pitching. Rick Porcello -- who we may now more often mention won a Cy Young award two years ago -- has one walk in four starts. He’s 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA.

Rafael Devers, meanwhile, is the youngest Sox player to hit a grand slam since Tony Conigliaro in 1965.

Things will change. They’ll get ugly at some point. For now, though, there’s no waiting to see what a team looks like when everything is actually working. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE