Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers shouldered some of the team’s hitting woes Sunday morning. The Sox entered the day with stars J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers struggling. Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr., too
“I need to get better,” Hyers said before the Sox’ 5-3 win in which Mitch Moreland hit a walk-off homer to end it. “I take a lot of responsibility on some of the struggles with some key guys. I think, in all, everybody is making the adjustments.”
Benintendi’s funk prompted manager Ron Roenicke to have Kevin Pillar pinch-hit for him in the fourth inning of Saturday’s loss. Pillar hit again for Benintendi on Sunday. This time in the seventh inning after Benintendi went 0 for 2 with a strikeout, dropping his batting average to .056.
Martinez’s and Devers’s ruts are different things, however. They are so valuable to the lineup that the Sox can’t afford to give them a day off, especially in a 60-game season. But the struggles for each persist.
Devers entered the day batting just .170 in 58 plate appearances. He ranked ninth in the league at chasing pitches out the zone (44.9 percent).
“He kind of got off to a bad start and it looked like he started swinging harder and expanding the zone,” Hyers said. “As a hitter, you go out there and try to get hits and that’s the wrong approach. I think it’s a process. You try to get a good pitch to hit. You try to stick to your game plan and that process will eventually create hits.”
Devers homered in the sixth Sunday to tie it. Bradley singled in the third inning. Martinez, meanwhile, was 0 for 4, dipping his average to .196 He has yet to homer in 56 at-bats, matching the longest streak he’s gone without homering since his swing makeover in 2013-14. He hasn’t knocked in a run in 13 games, the longest stretch without an RBI for his career.
“J.D., I think, just adapting to a new routine, he’s putting some pressure on himself to carry this team,” Hyers said. “He knows that he’s a big part of it. I know he put a lot of pressure on himself trying produce, and when that happens you expand the zone, like Devers.”
The Red Sox hitters and staff have had to adjust their routines because of COVID-19 protocols. Players’ time at the ballpark is limited. They can’t talk hitting as much or look at as much video, much to Martinez’s dismay. But Roenicke doesn’t want the Sox to use the different circumstances as an excuse as to why the club isn’t hitting.
“I don’t want to say [the lack of offense] is because of all this stuff going on,” Roenicke said. “You still have to deal with it. We have to figure out a way to get out of that [mind-set]. Other teams are hitting real well.”
Barnes bounces back
Matt Barnes has been scuffling. He came into Sunday’s game with a 6.00 ERA in six innings of work. His velocity has been a tick down from last season (95.1 miles per hour entering Sunday versus 96.7 last year). He’s walked six batters in that span, including two in the eighth inning Friday.
“We need to get him more like he was two years ago,” Roenicke said Saturday. “Whether it’s velocity, whether it’s command, I’m not sure. But we definitely need to get him where he gets through these innings a lot easier.”
Sunday marked one of those days for Barnes. With the game tied at 3, to start the ninth, Barnes struck out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on three pitches. Same for Randal Grichuk. Rowdy Tellez lined out as Barnes needed just eight pitches to get through the inning. While the velocity didn’t get above 95 m.p.h. the location was clearly there.
The Sox have a four-game set at Fenway against the Tampa Bay Rays starting Monday. The Rays come in having won three of four from the Yankees. The Sox will be going with an opener Monday, although no one had been named. Ryan Yarbrough is expected to take the ball for the Rays.
“They’re a good team,” Moreland said after Sunday’s game. “We kind of have to take this momentum into the next series. They’re going to be tough. We need to be ready to roll and put a good series together against those guys.”