KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mookie Betts was hitting .237 when he ran into the metal bullpen fence chasing a fly ball into the center-field triangle at Fenway Park on June 12. He sprained his lower back and bruised his face.
The injuries were enough to keep Betts out of two games. He used the time to heal but also to talk to some veteran teammates about how to improve at the plate.
A big part was learning to deal with the frustration of hitting the ball well without being rewarded.
Line drives were caught and deep fly balls tracked down at the warning track. Betts laughed it off at first then started wondering what he was doing wrong. A career .315 hitter in the minors who hit .291 as a rookie last season, Betts didn’t have much experience with failure.
“It gets tough sometimes,” he said.
Shane Victorino was particularly helpful, telling Betts the only solution was to play through the bad times.
The break proved fruitful. Betts had a career-best four hits on Friday night, helping the Red Sox to a 7-3 victory against the Kansas City Royals.
Betts is 13 of 22 with three extra-base hits and four RBIs in the last five games, the run boosting his batting average to .267. Smacking into a fence somehow helped.
“I guess so,” Betts said. “I’m not going to try it again and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, either. But I guess the couple of days off got myself together and I came out with a new attitude.”
It’s a mental change more than a physical one. Betts has been more aggressive early in counts, attacking strikes instead of waiting for a certain pitch or location.
“I know he’s done a lot of work with trying to stay on top of the ball and hit more line drives,” manager John Farrell said. “We’re seeing that pay off. He was dealing with some frustration.”
Mike Napoli, Hanley Ramirez, and Blake Swihart each drove in two runs for the Sox, who have won three of their last four games. With the exception of Brock Holt, who did draw a walk, every Sox starter had at least one hit and seven scored.
Pablo Sandoval, back from his one game Instragram exile, was 2 for 4 with a double. The Sox have won two straight on the road for the first time since May 13-14.
Kansas City intended to start Yordano Ventura but he went on the disabled list with ulnar neuritis. Yohan Pino was called up from Triple A Omaha to face the Sox.
The righthander allowed six runs on 11 hits over 5⅓ innings and didn’t have a strikeout. The Sox scored five runs on five hits in the second inning as nine men came to the plate.
Xander Bogaerts singled with one out before Sandoval doubled off the wall in center field. Napoli drove in two runs with a well-placed single up the middle. Alejando De Aza, 5 for 7 in his career against Pino, drew a walk. Swihart’s double to right field drove in Napoli and De Aza. Betts singled with two outs to drive in Swihart.
Hanley Ramirez homered to center field in the fifth inning, extending his arms to get to the slider off the plate. It was the 14th of the season for Ramirez.
Holt, starting at second base for the second consecutive game in place of an injured Dustin Pedroia, walked to start the seventh inning. After Betts singled, Holt scored on a single by Ramirez.
As the Red Sox had an uncharacteristically good offensive night, rookie lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez bounced back in efficient fashion from the worst outing of his brief career.
The 22-year-old, dominant in his first three starts, allowed nine runs in 4⅔ innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. Rodriguez did not spot his pitches well but also had misfortune of running into what was the hottest lineup in the majors.
Against the Royals he allowed one run on six hits with one walk and five strikeouts over 6⅓ innings. Rodriguez (3-1) dropped his earned run average to 3.13.
“I threw more strikes and found both corners of the plate. That was the difference from last time,” Rodriguez said. “I threw more sliders and controlled my emotions better. The last game I didn’t throw too many sliders. I threw more strikes and got ground balls and swings and misses.”
The bullpen allowed two runs but the Sox had built a safe lead by then. They have scored 23 runs in the last four games.
“Blake has really started to gain some comfort level with each passing week. He certainly adds a lot to the bottom third of that order,” Farrell said. “The offense has got that capability and we’re starting to see that more regularly.”