KANSAS CITY — The Red Sox knew patience would be required with rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbec this season. But that reservoir nearly ran dry in early May.
Dalbec went seven games without a hit and struck out 11 times. That dropped his batting average to .174 with only six runs batted in. Dalbec appeared overmatched.
“At one point it looked ugly to be honest with you,” manager Alex Cora said. “And he knew it.”
That the Sox were in first place and the rest of the lineup was producing saved Dalbec from a demotion to Triple A, although he did start to lose playing time.
Now the payoff from that patience is starting to come.
Dalbec reached base four times Saturday and drove in three runs as the Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals, 7-1.
On a day the Sox needed to help lefthander Martín Pérez get back on track, Dalbec was 3 for 3 with a triple and home run from the ninth spot of the order.
Dalbec is 11 of 30 (.367) with 6 extra-base hits, 8 RBIs, and 6 runs in his last eight games. That has boosted his OPS to .699, not too far away from the major league average of .712.
“He has a good feel right now and you have to ride that,” said teammate J.D. Martinez, who had a two-run homer.
Dalbec started choking up on the bat 10 days ago to gain more control and cut down on what was a long swing. It’s not something he’s made a habit of in his career, but obviously adjustments were necessary given the poor results.
“Less length on the bat, less bat to get through the zone. It creates more time,” Dalbec said.
Saturday provided a good example of Dalbec’s progress.
He went the other way with a two-strike fastball from Brad Keller for a single in the second inning. With a runner on first in the fifth inning, Dalbec drove a slider into the gap in left for his team-leading third triple of the season.
“Sneaky speed,” Dalbec said.
Facing Jackson Kowar in the ninth inning, Dalbec crushed a two-strike changeup to the opposite field for his ninth home run.
Three hits on three different pitches.
“I think the quality of the at-bats are a lot better,” Cora said. “We’ll keep working with him.”
Dalbec also is learning how to keep one bad game from turning into a bad series.
“Just trying to ride the wave, you know? Let go of things quicker,” he said. “Don’t put as much pressure on myself day to day, pitch to pitch.
“Trying to have more fun. Team’s winning, that’s all that matters.”
The offense was a boost for Pérez, who allowed 11 runs on 12 hits over 3⅓ innings in his two prior starts. This time he gave up one run on five hits over five innings to improve to 5-4.
Pérez struck out Michael A. Taylor to end the second inning, but stayed on the mound, having lost track of the outs. He sheepishly smiled before jogging back to the dugout.
That Pérez had enough outs to count was an achievement.
“Today I was attacking, and it was hard for them to hit the ball,” he said.
Keller held the Sox to one run over four innings, retiring seven in a row at one point. That changed in a hurry in the fifth inning as the Sox scored four runs to take control of the game.
Kiké Hernández saw seven pitches and led off with a walk. He scored on Dalbec’s triple.
Dalbec scored on a contact play when Danny Santana tapped a grounder down the first-base line. After Alex Verdugo worked a nine-pitch walk, Martinez drove a fastball over the fence in left. It was his 14th home run of the season and 100th with the Red Sox.
Garrett Whitlock pitched two scoreless innings following Pérez, dropping his earned run average to 1.57 in 20 appearances.
That allowed Cora to use Hirokazu Sawamura and Brandon Workman to close the game out and give closer Matt Barnes his fourth consecutive day off.
The Sox are 3-1 on their eight-game road trip and have won seven of eight overall. They finish the series on Sunday afternoon with Nate Eovaldi facing Mike Minor.
The Royals have lost seven of eight.
- Red Sox star prospect Jarren Duran took his father’s advice, hit the gym, and became a different hitter
- Martín Pérez bounces back against Royals after recent struggles