Red Sox

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.

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“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.

SLUMP RECOGNITION

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.”

ASSERTIVENESS?

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.”

MECHANICS

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."

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Red Sox Lineup: Chavis leads off; Benintendi, Moreland sit vs. LHP

Red Sox Lineup: Chavis leads off; Benintendi, Moreland sit vs. LHP

The Boston Red Sox are taking on the Houston Astros in the final game of a three-game series on Sunday afternoon. And for the contest, the Red Sox lineup looks a bit different than normal.

Facing lefthanded pitcher, and former Red Sox, Wade Miley, Boston is giving Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland the day off. As a result, J.D. Martinez will play left field while Jackie Bradley Jr. gets a chance to play center, despite the unfavorable matchup against Miley. In Martinez's place at DH, Eduardo Nunez will once again start and bat eighth.

The biggest wrinkle in the lineup is that the Sox are batting Michael Chavis lead-off. Chavis has had a hot start to his major league career, batting .281 with 7 homers, and he will get a chance to get on base in front of Mookie Betts. It also means that the Red Sox will start off their day with six consecutive righthanded batters, clearly a strategic move against Miley, who has allowed a .248 batting average to righties compared to a .186 mark against lefties.

The other major note in the lineup is that hot-hitting catcher Christian Vazquez will bat fifth. Vazquez has already set a career-high in homers with six and has stepped up his game since Blake Swihart was DFA'd. If he keeps hitting well, he will continue to hold down a middle-of-the-order spot. 

On the mound for the Red Sox will be Chris Sale. After a rough start to the season, Sale is coming off a 17 strikeout game, and he will be looking to repeat his success against one of the league's best all-around lineups.

Here's a look at the lineups for both sides ahead of today's game. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

BOSTON RED SOX (23-22)
Michael Chavis 2B
Mookie Betts RF
J.D. Martinez LF
Xander Bogaerts SS
Christian Vazquez C
Steve Pearce 1B
Rafael Devers 3B
Eduardo Nunez DH
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
--
Chris Sale LHP (1-5, 4.24 ERA)

HOUSTON ASTROS (31-15)
George Springer RF
Alex Bregman 3B
Michael Brantley DH
Carlos Correa SS
Yuli Gurriel 2B
Tyler White 1B
Robinson Chirinos C
Josh Reddick LF
Jake Marisnick CF
--
Wade Miley LHP (4-2, 3.51 ERA)

Swihart DFA challenged Vazquez, and he's delivering>>>

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Hector Velazquez logs shortest Red Sox start in over 15 years

Hector Velazquez logs shortest Red Sox start in over 15 years

Hector Velazquez had a rough outing last night for the Boston Red Sox. In his seventh start of the season, Velazquez had what was far and away his worst outing of the year.

In the start, Velazquez only lasted 1/3 of an inning, allowing five runs and causing the Sox to fall behind early in their 7-3 loss.

"I felt fine. [The Astros] hit a triple, I made a couple mistakes, and I tried to battle through it but I couldn’t," said Velazquez through a translator after the outing.

“It looked from the get-go that (Velazquez) didn’t have it,” said Alex Cora, per Chris Mason of The Eagle-Tribune.

Though Velazquez felt fine during the outing, he definitely didn't "have it." In fact, he logged the shortest outing by a Red Sox starter in more than 15 years.

Per Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe, Velazquez is the first Red Sox starter to last just 1/3 of an inning since John Burkett in 2003.

Needless to say, that's not company that Velazquez would like to be keeping, but in his previous two starts, he performed well, allowing a total of four runs over eight innings pitched. Chalk up his poor outing on Saturday to playing one of the best hitting teams in baseball.

Velazquez may need to continue to serve as a spot starter moving forward, but the Red Sox rotation is getting a boost on Monday. David Price will be returning to the starting rotation for a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Velazquez will likely continue to start with Nathan Eovaldi on the IL, but he may alternate starts duties with other pitchers. Josh Smith, who already made a start this season, stands out as one possibility.

Swihart DFA challenged Vazquez, and he's delivering>>>

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