For the second straight game, Kiké Hernández became a catalyst.
One day after he led off against the Yankees with a homer on Gerrit Cole’s first pitch of the game, Hernández again went deep in the first Red Sox at-bat of the game on Monday against the Royals. With the Red Sox trailing, 3-0, in the bottom of the first, Hernández obliterated an offering from lefthander Danny Duffy for his eighth homer of the year and the ninth leadoff homer of his career in Monday’s 6-5 Red Sox win over the Royals.
“That’s what we envisioned, right?” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “It’s instant offense . . . Hopefully he can continue doing that. It’s not about him hitting the ball out of the ballpark, but we know he can do damage from that spot.”
The back-to-back days came in Hernández’s first two games batting leadoff since June 15. Yet while the 29-year-old came out taking aggressive swings in his return to the first spot in the order, he downplayed the idea that he’d reimagined his approach when batting first.
“I didn’t get much time to think about being back in leadoff [against Cole] because I found out Saturday night pretty late,” said Hernández. “I felt like first pitch of the at-bat might be the best one to hit. For the most part, he makes a pretty good pitch down and away the first pitch of the game. He happened to make a mistake down and in, and I was able to get the head out and get to the ball.”
The homer against Cole — the second Hernández had ever hit on the first pitch of the first inning, and first since 2016 — continued a generally solid stretch over the last few weeks in which the infielder/outfielder was hitting .242/.319/.468, looking more like the player whom the Sox envisioned when signing him to a two-year deal.
Hernández believes that, after a period of adjusting to a new league, new home park, new primary position (while he played the outfield with the Dodgers, he spent most of his time at second), and unfamiliar pitchers, he’s finding his footing in Boston.
“I’ve spent six years in the National League West. I’d say 85 percent of the pitchers I’ve faced thus far, I’m facing for the first time,” said Hernández. “The more we play teams, the more comfortable I’m getting. I have a little better idea of how the team wants to approach me and what the pitcher has . . . Every week, every month that goes by, I’m starting to get more settled in, more comfortable, and starting to feel regular.”
Royals manager Mike Matheny said that Andrew Benintendi is making progress from the hairline fracture of the ribs, and that the outfielder has told the team he wants to try some rotational activities and light hitting. After he was named Royals Player of the Month in May, his absence has been felt.
“I hated to lose him,” Matheny said. “He was taking as good at-bats as anybody and just coming through in big situations. He was really getting into his best rhythm where he was driving the ball, especially to the opposite gaps and just having confidence. . . . Hopefully, he can keep that sweet swing going [when he comes back] because he was in a really nice spot.”
Benintendi is hitting .283/.340/.429 with eight homers and seven steals this year.
Cora said infielder Christian Arroyo (right knee) and catcher Kevin Plawecki (left hamstring) are increasing their baseball activities, and both appear likely to come off the injured list on or near July 1 when they’re first eligible to be reinstated. “They’re moving well. They’re feeling better,” Cora said. “It feels like this is going to be something short and they should be with us sooner rather than later.” . . . Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-4 with a double, marking the 23rd straight game in which he’s reached base – the longest active streak in the majors. His career-long streak for games reaching base is 28, set in 2016 . . . Prior to the game, the Royals selected infielder Enmanuel Rivera to their roster. The 25-year-old started at third and went 2-for-4 . . . The Red Sox weren’t the only winners in their weekend sweep of the Yankees. The two games NESN aired, on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, delivered the two highest ratings for a Red Sox broadcast on the network since Opening Day 2020. The Red Sox’ 5-3 win over the Yankees Friday drew a 7.10 household rating, the network’s highest since its 2020 opener last July 24 against the Orioles during the pandemic-abbreviated season. The Red Sox’ 9-2 win to complete the sweep Sunday afternoon delivered a 6.04 household rating. Viewership for Red Sox games on NESN this season is up 84 percent over last season’s 60-game full-season household rating . . . Red Sox tickets for the second half of the season go on sale on Friday at 10 a.m. at redsox.com.
Chad Finn and Kris Rhim contributed to this report.