When Bryce Brentz went 5 for 5 May 13 in Double A Portland’s 7-4 loss at Trenton, he became the 11th player in franchise history to record five hits in a game.
But when he duplicated the feat in a 7-2 win at Harrisburg, Pa., last Thursday - going 5 for 5 with three doubles to raise his average to .306 - he became the first player in franchise history to record a pair of five-hit games in one season.
“The first five-hit game was nice, but I didn’t think I’d do it again,’’ said Brentz. “I didn’t know I was the first person to ever do it twice, but it was pretty special looking back on it.
“What helped me out was the fact that I had a chance at it before, earlier in the month, and at that time, I tried to do too much and ended up going 4 for 5 when I got out in that last at-bat.
“So when I stepped up to the box for that final at-bat, and actually got it, it was more like, ‘Hey, slow things down and let the game come to you.’ I took ball one and then made a good swing on the second pitch.’’
Brentz doubled for the third time in the game, which tied a franchise record.
For his efforts, Brentz was recognized not only as the Eastern League Player of the Week (10 for 23 with a pair of home runs from May 28-June 3), but also as the Player of the Month for May, with a league-leading .388 average (38 for 98), 5 homers, 9 doubles, 11 RBIs, and 10 multi-hit games.
Brentz, a 23-year-old outfielder from Knoxville, Tenn., said he owed his recent success to a new approach he developed with Portland hitting coach Dave Joppie, who emphasized plate discipline and strike-zone awareness.
“I’m a free swinger - let’s just call it what it is,’’ said Brentz, who last year was the Red Sox’ Co-Offensive Player of the Year along with Ryan Lavarnway after hitting .306 in 115 games between Low A Greenville and High A Salem. “But he was just trying to say, ‘Hey, you’re no longer a free swinger. Let’s be a free swinger with an approach. Let’s not just swing at everything that comes out of the pitcher’s hand.’ ’’
So Brentz started working on getting better counts and recognizing what pitches he was likely to face in a specific situation.
“Last year, in A ball, I’d go up there and take an off-speed pitch for ball one and then get geared up a fastball and cheat on it, I guess,’’ Brentz said. “Here, I can’t do that, because a lot of times I’ll get a 2-and-0 changeup, a 2-and-1 slider.
“It’s not like last year when you’d get a 2-and-0 fastball, 2-and-1 fastball, 3-and-0 fastball. Here, I’ve gotten a couple of 3-0 curveballs.’’
Above all, Brentz said, he had to “earn the fastball,’’ as Joppie termed it.
“Dave told me to be a little more patient and command the strike zone a little bit better,’’ Brentz said. “I started taking more pitches, getting more familiar with the strike zone and knowing like, hey, this is a pitch I can’t do anything with and waiting for one I could.’’
Brentz went 0 for 4 in Tuesday’s 6-1 win over Bowie, which dropped his average to .300. He struck out three times - the fifth time he has done so this season.
Drafted by the Indians in the 30th round in 2007 as a high school senior, Brentz opted not to sign, he said, because, “I hadn’t reached my hitting potential. So I went to college and it worked out pretty good.’’
The Red Sox used a supplemental pick to select Brentz 36th overall in 2010 out of Middle Tennessee State, where in 2009 he led the NCAA in batting (.465), homers (28), slugging percentage (.930), and total bases (214) and was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.
“I know last year was a great year, and how do you top last year? Well, maybe you can and maybe you can’t,’’ said Brentz, who started this season with Portland as the No. 5 overall prospect (No. 1 outfield prospect) in the organization, according to Baseball America.
“But this year has helped me become more of a complete hitter, going back side, taking what the pitcher gives me, and knowing situations and counts. And just kind of learning little things about the game that I never really took into consideration.’’
Daniel Bard might find some inspiration in Mark Melancon, the hard-luck reliever who was sent down to Pawtucket April 20 after posting a 49.50 ERA in four games with Boston. Since his demotion, Melancon has made 18 appearances and gone 9 for 9 in save situations, striking out 27 batters while walking two.
His ERA rose to 0.92 after he allowed a run for just the second time with Pawtucket May 29 vs. Norfolk.
“He’s got good stuff,’’ said Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler. “He’s gotten the confidence back in his breaking ball and changeup. He’s really locating the fastball well, and those are things he wasn’t doing well up there because he just needed work.
“It’s tough to work on things when you’re playing the Rangers and the Tigers and those guys are on fire the way they came out of the chute.’’
Beyeler liked the way the 27-year-old righthander handled his situation.
“He came in, got hit a little bit the first time out, but didn’t shy away and still got it done,’’ Beyeler said. “You can’t teach stuff, and he’s got stuff, so that’s what makes him so successful and lets him keep doing what he does.
“Hopefully, the phone will ring here pretty soon and he’ll get the opportunity to get back to where he belongs.’’
Drake Britton, recently promoted from Salem, made quite an impression in his debut with Portland Tuesday. The 23-year-old lefthander tossed five no-hit innings in a 6-1 victory over Bowie, though he did walk six (all in the first three innings) . . . Lavarnway had a big game for the PawSox in a 13-2 romp over Indianapolis Tuesday, going 4 for 5 with a double and a three-run homer. It punctuated a five-game stretch in which Lavarnway hit .571 (12 for 21).