Manager John Farrell dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. The Red Sox, he said, haven’t even considered the idea of sending rookie third baseman Xander Bogaerts back to the minor leagues.
That notion, though inconceivable at the moment, could change. No player, not even a prospect the entire organization took great pride in, is immune from not being good enough to help the team — especially a team as desperate as the fading Red Sox are for offense.
Bogaerts has gone 23 consecutive at-bats without a hit. Since a single to left field against Seattle June 24, he has struck out nine times and gotten the ball out of the infield four times. Bogaerts has gone 12 games without an RBI and nine games without a run.
Among position players, his hitless streak is the longest for an active major leaguer.
“I’ve had slumps before, every player has. It’s not unusual,” Bogaerts said. “But this is unusual for me. I feel like even when I hit the ball hard I’m not getting anything for it.”
Because he played so well in the World Series last fall and hit so well for the first few months this year, it’s easy to forget Bogaerts is 21 and stardom is not guaranteed.
“Reality hits every player at some point,” teammate Jonny Gomes said. “It’s what happens next that counts.”
Bogaerts was hitting .299 with an .840 OPS on June 7. He was fourth in the America Leageue with a .387 on-base percentage. Bogaerts was second in batting average among AL rookies and first in walks, hits, runs, and doubles.
In 21 games since, Bogaerts has endured what can only be described as an unimaginable slump. He is 6 of 77 (.078) with one extra-base hit, two RBIs, and four runs. Bogaerts has struck out 23 times, nearly 30 percent of his at-bats in those games, and drawn only four walks.
After starting all but three of the first 65 games, Bogaerts has been out of the lineup in four of the last 20 games. He was dropped from second in the batting order to seventh June 24.
It was so bad Tuesday night that the Cubs intentionally walked A.J. Pierzynski, a hitter having his own problems, to get to Bogaerts in the fourth inning. He responded with a line drive to center field but Justin Ruggiano made a leaping catch just shy of the warning track.
Bogaerts was left standing with a stunned look on his face.
Wednesday’s game was more frustration. Bogaerts drew a walk with two outs in the third inning but struck out looking at a slider with the bases loaded to end the fourth inning.
With runners at second and third in the sixth inning, Bogaerts grounded to first and the Cubs got an easy out at the plate. Bogaerts struck out looking again, this time at a fastball, in the eighth inning with one runner on. That dropped his batting average to .242 and his OPS to .688.
‘I don’t think about defense when I’m at the plate.’
“He can’t hit a slider,” said a Yankees pitcher, who asked not to be identified after last weekend’s series against the Sox. “Then when he starts to look for the slider you can get a fastball by him. He’s not the same hitter he was before.”
Bogaerts has not had a hit with a runner in scoring position in 27 at-bats going back to May 29. A player who was helping carry the offense has become a liability.
“That’s the worst part, not being able to contribute,” Bogaerts said.
Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, a former minor league instructor, knows Bogaerts’s swing better than anybody in the organization. He sees mechanical issues that need smoothing out but believes the root of the problem is a young player dealing with great expectations.
“I try to keep him positive,” Rodriguez said. “He’s trying to do too much and he’s gotten away from what he is.”
Rodriguez explained that Bogaerts, when he’s at his best, is uncommonly patient at the plate and waits for a pitch he knows he can handle. But in the last few weeks he has taken to lunging at pitches and is getting beat with off-speed offerings.
“He wants to be that guy who changes that game,” Rodriguez said. “He did so well early in the season and now he’s trying to do more. I told him, ‘No, no, no. What you were doing early, you were under control and you were in a good position to react and hit the ball where it was pitched.’
“Right now, he’s committing before he sees a pitch. He’s trying too hard.”
There also are mechanical issues the coaches are trying to address.
“His balance is off because he’s trying to go get the ball instead of letting the ball come to him,” Rodriguez said. “He needs to recognize off-speed pitches and then commit. He’s starting before he sees the pitch and that’s tough to do.”
On Wednesday, the coaches showed Bogaerts video of pitchers throwing him sliders. The tutorial did not pay off in the game but, still, the Red Sox feel Bogaerts has the right attitude.
“Obviously he cares. He’s accountable for his actions both in preparation and the ultimate results,” Farrell said. “What we monitor is if that becomes a distraction inside the lines and right now it’s not.”
Bogaerts, Farrell, and the coaches all insist that his offensive woes are not related to how he has been used defensively.
“Two parts of the game,” Bogaerts said. “I don’t think about defense when I’m at the plate.”
But the statistics are startling. Bogaerts has hit .296 with an .816 OPS in 53 games at shortstop and .131 with a .422 OPS in 25 games at third base, all since June 2.
The Red Sox committed to Bogaerts as their shortstop during the winter and maintained that belief in spring training, telling him not to bother taking ground balls at third base. That changed suddenly on May 21 when the team re-signed Stephen Drew and announced Bogaerts would move to third base.
Bogaerts expressed his disappointment that day. Shortstop, he said, was part of his identity as a player. That he had started to show significant improvement in the field only made the team’s reversal of course more difficult to take.
Many players who are now stars went through slumps in their first full seasons. They learned to deal with expectations, team decisions they did not agree with, and scouting reports that exposed their weaknesses. Whatever the problem was, they fixed it. Now Bogaerts, the perfect prospect, faces his imperfections.
“We as a group have to remind him who he is and what he brings,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t panic and we’re not panicking. It’s going to get better. But this? Nobody expected this.”Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.