Andrew Benintendi saw some velocity at Fenway Park Wednesday morning. Just before the Red Sox began their team workout, Benintendi was a part of a group, which also included Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., taking hacks off a pitching machine.
With the start of the 60-game season a little more than two weeks away, it’s imperative for hitters to simulate game conditions as much as possible. The Sox have ramped up their hitters’ progression quickly. In addition to seeing pitches off a machine, Benintendi has faced live pitching twice.
“I feel good,” Benintendi said on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. “I feel comfortable. The swing felt good. Now, it’s just getting the timing back. Obviously, that will come with facing more pitching.”
Benintendi’s next test will come during Thursday’s intrasquad game, which is scheduled for 2 p.m at Fenway. Benintendi comes into this shortened season looking to bounce back from an uninspiring 2019, when he hit just .266 with 13 home runs. The most alarming number was the 140 strikeouts he accumulated in 615 plate appearances.
“This kid striking out  times, that’s not normal,” then-manager Alex Cora said at the end of last season. “Outs are outs, but, no, I think that’s one of the things that happened this year.”
Benintendi attributed the high number of strikeouts to him not controlling the strike zone, perhaps overthinking a bit. He also had difficulty finding a direct path and having it in tune with his lower half and stride. Hitting coach Tim Hyers visited with Benintendi this past offseason, knowing he would be a pivotal piece to the lineup in 2020. Now that Mookie Betts is a Dodger, there’s a chance Benintendi could even hit leadoff.
Benintendi felt coming into the team’s initial spring training that he had found the remedy for his underwhelming 2019, with minor adjustments. He’s reminding himself of those tweaks each time he steps into the box during summer camp.
“I’m just trying to critique a few things,” Benintendi said. “Trying to find the right stride. Trying to get myself more time to see the ball. Trying to keep my bat in the zone a lot longer than what it was last year. That’s something we’ll work on every day off the tee or with flips before we take batting practice on the field.”
Rafael Devers had been absent from Fenway for the last couple of days. The third baseman was at Boston College with third base coach Carlos Febles because the team thought Devers might have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, so the team was being extra cautious.
But Devers was able to return to Fenway on Wednesday after testing negative three straight times. He went through a series of running and fielding drills with the final group.
“I know with him, he’s a little concerned because he’s trying to catch up and make sure he’s getting all the work he needs,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “He was concerned about seeing velocity and we were able to do that with him over there [at BC] with the pitching machine and the cage.”
Devers also took live batting practice Wednesday against Phillips Valdez, Robinson Leyer, and Domingo Tapia.
Jonathan Lucroy is in a battle with Kevin Plawecki for the backup catching position behind Christian Vazquez, but he’s putting in work at first base, too, taking grounders on Wednesday. Versatility increases Lucroy’s chances of making the team.
“I know he played a little bit of first base when I had him in Milwaukee,” said Roenicke, who managed Lucroy with the Brewers from 2011-15. “He was such a good offensive player that any time he didn’t need the whole day off [from catching], we put him at first. Because he’s a catcher, he’s used to balls in the dirt, on the ground. Nothing gets by him.”
Let’s get started
Nate Eovaldi and Chris Mazza will start Thursday’s intrasquad game on the mound. Eovaldi will pitch four or five innings, while Mazza is scheduled for two. The Sox plan to play five innings in both Thursday’s and Friday’s instrasquad games..