Xander Bogaerts finally got hot against the Yankees this weekend, going 7 for 11 with two doubles and capping it off with a two-homer game Sunday. Despite the Red Sox falling to 3-7 by getting swept, it was promising to see Bogaerts return to form after weeks of trying to figure it out.
His struggles at the plate date to summer camp. Bogaerts was jumpy, battling to find his timing in a shortened window to ramp up. He wasn’t striking out much, but he wasn’t making solid contact either.
“I was feeling like I was stuck at the plate,” Bogaerts said. “I didn’t feel like I had much rhythm.”
Because he was so jumpy, he would oftentimes be out in front, either hitting the ball off the end of his bat or shooting it the other way with no authority. As a result, Bogaerts purposefully started working on letting the ball travel, the righthanded hitter thinking right field to keep his shoulder in and keeping his lower half squared.
“Xander is a smart hitter and intelligent and has experience,” Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said Monday. “Sometimes when he’s not feeling good, he works his way out of it really, really well. He’s done it many times. Whenever things go sideways and he feels a little jumpy, he gets back to the basics.”
Teams were also throwing Bogaerts pitches down and away. They would show him inside, but not for a strike, then go back to attacking away.
“A lot of times, when they’re pitching you that way,” Hyers said, “you have a tendency to feel jumpy.”
According to Baseball Savant, 40.7 percent of Bogaerts’s contact has been to the opposite field, compared to just 33.3 to the pull side. His opposite field percentage hasn’t been above 26 percent since 2015, when it was 31.1.
Yet hitters tweak and tweak, in a constant chess match with themselves. The old cliche, a game of adjustments, holds true. Bogaerts found himself, again, having to make another one.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Bogaerts said he still wasn’t feeling like himself, and that he couldn’t pull the ball with his normal power when he tried to. It was hard for him to find that trigger. So, he spoke with Hyers and J.D. Martinez.
It all was in his lower half.
“Hitters want the ball to travel,” Hyers said. “And sometimes, they lose that aggressiveness. You have to transfer force into the ball. Sometimes when they get stuck they lift the leg up — [Xander] has a little bit of a leg kick — and you just kind of sit there on your back hip and you don’t get off the backside to transfer the force.”
In other words, Bogaerts was thinking about letting the ball travel so much, he wasn’t getting his front foot down in time. By the time his foot was down, the ball was already on him, forcing him to rush his swing and his lower half to over-rotate. It changed when Martinez, alongside Hyers, told Bogaerts to get into the ground more.
“When he got a little rhythm and that lower-half feeling, that foundation into your front side,” Hyers said, “now [you see] that swing is just free out front and now he’s able to have more length in the zone.”
Bogaerts homered to right-center in his first at-bat Sunday, then finally got to his pull-side power: Single to left field, homer to left-center, and double to left-center off the base of the wall.
“I’m just going to keep working on, you know, if it’s inside, let that inner trigger react to it and hit it to left field,” Bogaerts said.
Hitters tweak and tweak, in a constant chess match with themselves. There will be more adjustments to come, and Hyers will be right there, welcoming the conversation.
“Xander is one of the best at [talking baseball, talking fundamentals] because he’s very honest about how he feels,” he said.
Josh Taylor building up
Reliever Josh Taylor said on a Zoom call with reporters that he was shocked when he found out that he tested positive for COVID-19 just before summer camp. He said he was asymptomatic, and is now at the team’s alternate site in Pawtucket ramping back up. Scheduled to throw a simulated inning Tuesday, he said he feels as if he’s ready to go. “I feel like I’ve been doing great. Some things need to sharpen up, but I feel a lot better facing hitters as opposed to throwing bullpens,” he said. “Throwing bullpens, you don’t get a hitter to read. I feel really good about how my stuff is coming out right now” . . . Rafael Devers played some good defense against the Yankees, a good display after committing three errors in his first four games. His most notable play came Sunday, when, going toward the third-base line, he snagged an Aaron Judge grounder and threw him out at first. “Obviously, I know critics will say I don’t have the best defense,” Devers said through team interpreter Bryan Almonte, “but that’s something I work extremely hard on. Errors are going to happen. Do I want to commit them? Of course not, but baseball is full of ups and downs. [Defense] is something I do pride myself in is my defense” . . . The Sox open up a two-game set against the Rays at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, with Nate Eovaldi to get the ball against Rays’ Charlie Morton.