“I don’t want to even think about that right now,” Xander Bogaerts said Thursday night after the Red Sox beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3. “We’ve won four straight, I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to have too many things in my head right now. I’m playing shortstop right now and I want to play the best shortstop I can. I want to help the team win. We went 0-10 and now we’re 4-0.”
Bogaerts is thought of as Boston’s future third baseman. And that probably still makes him unhappy because of his love of shortstop.
When Stephen Drew returns in about a week, Bogaerts will move to third. But he hasn’t taken one ground ball there yet, because he’s a shortstop for as long as he can be a shortstop. Anyway, the shift to third shouldn’t be that difficult.
It’s funny that since the Red Sox signed Drew, Bogaerts has been excellent in the field and at the plate. There’s some second-guessing now about the Drew signing, but he should help.
On Thursday night, Bogaerts singled hard off Braves third baseman Chris Johnson’s glove in the ninth, and Jackie Bradley Jr. scored the winning run when second baseman Tommy La Stella failed to catch Johnson’s throw for an error.
“I was a little nervous, bit my lip, but I told myself to calm down,” Bogaerts said.
He went 3 for 5 with a double and an RBI, the first time in his career he has recorded consecutive three-hit games. It was also his fourth multi-hit game in his last six (.423, 11 for 26).
He’s reached base in 16 of his last 17 games (.373) with six doubles, a triple, two homers, seven RBIs, and five walks.
He’s been pumped up since the team signed Drew. Why?
“I guess I just want to play,” Bogaerts said.
And Bogaerts, a native of sunny, warm Aruba, is still playing in relatively cold weather. Thursday night was chilly, for sure.
“I love playing in hotter weather. I just can’t get loose in the cold weather,” he said.
Bogaerts shrugged off a poor start with runners in scoring position and now he says, “I’m just relaxed at the plate.” He’s hitting .296 on the season.
Bogaerts’s only wish Thursday night when he came up with runners at first and second and nobody out in the ninth against Craig Kimbrel, generally regarded as the best closer in the game, was “that I didn’t have to bunt against a 99-mile-per-hour fastball.”
Bogaerts got his wish. He also got down in the count, 0 and 2 (he’s 6 for 14 on 0-2 counts this season), before drilling the ball at Johnson, who threw to second, where La Stella, a rookie, botched it.
“At first I thought [Johnson had] caught the ball and I’m saying, ‘Oh no,’ but then I saw the ball squirt loose and there was a bad throw to second base. I was relieved,” Bogaerts said.
And everyone got to go home.
In the eighth inning, Bogaerts singled to right-center, scoring Brock Holt. He had a chat with Brian Butterfield right before, and the third base coach told him to use all fields.
Bogaerts is obviously on his way to stardom. He’s 21 years old and playing top-level ball. There isn’t a player on the Red Sox who is outplaying him. And when there’s a key point in a game, he’s become someone you want to be up as opposed to earlier this season when he couldn’t do a thing with runners in scoring position.
John Farrell has elevated him from the bottom of the order to the middle and now to the No. 2 spot. He has bat control. He makes contact. He’s learning the patterns of major league pitchers. He doesn’t get fooled as much anymore.
He’s being more patient with offspeed pitches, recognizing them better so he lays off what he needs to lay off and hits what he needs to hit.
Being overwhelmed is slowly but surely leaving his system. There’s nothing that stuns him anymore — not the way pitchers pitch to him or how he reacts.
When young guys play like this, they create excitement. They can lift a team because there’s nothing like youth enthusiasm and exuberance. When they go bad, they can bring you down because the hope they were supposed to create suddenly turns into air coming out of a balloon.
But the Red Sox don’t have to worry about that.
When the Red Sox signed Drew, Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington told Bogaerts that his shortstop days weren’t necessarily over. That was hard to believe at the time. Why else would you get Drew but to play him and immediately improve the defense?
Now it’s believable that Bogaerts could return to shortstop against lefthanded pitchers that Drew can’t handle. Bogaerts has made the routine play, has turned and started double plays nicely. So maybe there is a future for Bogaerts at shortstop.
If he continues to hit at a .300 pace, he can probably name his position in the future. There’s no doubt that he’s made big strides at shortstop in the last two weeks. He’s gone from a guy with a negative UZR rating to one over the last couple of weeks that is more than adequate.
Whether the pressure is off and now Bogaerts can finally relax at shortstop, who knows? He’s certainly winning over his teammates.
“We’re relying on young guys to play some pretty important positions on the field,” catcher David Ross said. “When I was 21, I was still in college. I wasn’t much of a prospect. When you’re a top prospect like Xander, a lot is expected of you. He’s handled everything so well. He’s getting big hits, making big plays. He’s become a big part of our offense. We rely on him now to do big things in big situations. And then you have to remember, he’s 21.”
By the time he’s 22 on Oct. 1, he’ll likely be a third baseman.
Either way, he said, “If I can stay in the lineup, that’s all that matters to me right now. I just want to contribute. Things are going good for all of us here now. It’s been a long losing streak and now it’s fun again.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.