Alex Cora has seen enough of the struggling Red Sox offense in its current form, so before Monday's series opener vs. the Blue Jays, he made some changes.
Alex Verdugo, a staple in the No. 2 hole virtually all season, has been dropped to sixth in the order. Rookie Jarren Duran, a leadoff hitter throughout his minor-league career, will move up to second. Xander Bogaerts will move from fourth to third, followed by Rafael Devers in the cleanup spot, and J.D. Martinez batting fifth.
Cora described the move as mostly about Martinez, who has spent the bulk of the season batting third, but hasn't hit as often with runners on base recently, particularly with Verdugo struggling.
The issues came to a head in Sunday's 9-1 loss to the Yankees, completing a series that saw the Red Sox manage just six runs in three games.
"I'm trying to maximize J.D., get him some traffic in front of him," Cora said. "There was an at-bat yesterday that caught my attention with Raffy. He had traffic and they didn't attack him. I've been thinking about this for a while now. How we can rearrange J.D., Xander and Raffy so we can maximize them? We haven't been good offensively since Oakland, so why not? It gives Dugie a breather, too, although he's hitting behind J.D., but maybe a different at-bat. Second and third, one out, he hits a ground ball and we score a run and he feels better about himself, so we went with it."
While the shift could create more RBI opportunities for Martinez, it's also an acknowledgement that Verdugo hasn't produced for a while now. After a strong start that earned him All-Star consideration, Verdugo has slumped badly. Since the start of June, he's batting just .253 with two homers and a .683 OPS. He's at .245-0-.608 in July.
Also of concern: after striking out just 28 times in his first 58 games, Verdugo was whiffed 23 times in his last 28.
"The swing and misses lately, that's not him," Cora said. "This is a guy, he makes contact, he goes the other way and it hasn't happened consistently for him, but he's working. He's working. I think it's just a timing thing. When you're late on the fastball and out in front on offspeed pitches, it's all about timing. But the thing with Dugie, too, is it's so simple with him, his approach. There's not too much adjusting, it's just a matter of getting that timing back and get back to raking."
Cora is confident this offensive blip will be temporary.
"I'm not concerned," he said. "I think you go through ups and downs during the season. . . . Today just felt like, let's try this and see what happens. Maybe Jarren gets on and we can run and we can put pressure on them. Dugie comes up with the bases loaded and no outs, he might hit a grand slam. You never know. It's still the same group of guys. We'll just reshuffle it for the time being and see where it takes us."