Andrew Benintendi carrying Red Sox at right time
Earlier this month, as Andrew Benintendi took stock of his first full season in the big leagues, the rookie expressed a hint of sheepishness about his performance.
“I think I’m a better hitter than what I’ve done this year,” he said.
Increasingly, he’s seemed intent on proving the point. Benintendi fueled the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Athletics on Thursday, going 3 for 4 including a pair of doubles, and driving in three runs. His sixth-inning double drove in Dustin Pedroia to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, and his seventh-inning single broke the game open to allow the Red Sox to cruise to their 83rd victory of the year.
Benintendi remains in one of his more productive stretches of the year. In his last 37 games since the start of August, he’s hitting .322 with a .400 on-base percentage and .537 slugging mark. Over his last five games, he’s been driving the ball to all fields while going 11 for 22 with six doubles, leaving him with 45 extra-base hits — the most by a Red Sox rookie since Dustin Pedroia’s 48 in 2007.
“On this homestand, for the better part of a month and a half, Benny has been in a great spot with all-field approach, extra-base power,” said manager John Farrell. “He’s come up with some key base hits at opportune times.”
Benintendi’s latest hot stretch is particularly noteworthy given that it came on the heels of an 0-for-20 skid last week.
In contrast to the midsummer struggles during which Benintendi seemed unable to gain a toehold amid a slide that ran from mid-May through the end of July, the 23-year-old now believes he’s better positioned to regain his footing. With the education of his prior downturn along with a full year of experience in the big leagues upon which to draw, he feels better equipped to make the necessary adjustments to escape quickly from funks.
“I think I kind of recognize [the slump] sooner than I did earlier in the year. Just try to make things more simple, whether it be hitting the ball the other way, moving the runner, things like that, good things will happen,” said Benintendi. “You get here and you’re going to go through struggles and things like that, you’re going to play well. You’ve just got to stay even-keeled through it all. Every time I go up to the plate I think I’m going to get a hit. That confidence never leaves. It’s that mind-set I think that will keep you from going in those big slumps.”
Such markers are significant for a player who is a little more than four years removed from high school and two years clear of his standout college career. Though the Red Sox entered the year prepared to lean heavily on Benintendi, their reliance on him did not erase the fact that he’d occupy a spot in the top third of their batting order despite less than a year’s worth of experience above Single A.
Benintendi’s fast track to the big leagues has offered little consolation to the left fielder when he’s struggled. Nonetheless, it has meant that this year has represented something of a crash course, in a way that even his first exposure to the big leagues in 2016 did not.
“It’s still my first [full] year. I’m just trying to take in everything,” said Benintendi, whose .280 average, .360 OBP, and .803 OPS all lead members of the Red Sox who have at least 100 games played. “I’ve been realizing the last few weeks just how long of a season it is. You’re going to have your ups and downs. It’s such a long season that you’re going to figure it out eventually.”
“Eventually” might have arrived early — and for the Red Sox, as they try to make a push to seal the American League East and move on to the postseason, the timing couldn’t have been much better. A player who entered the year with enormous expectations given his rare pure hitting ability is living up to such high standards down the stretch, the hard-won labors of his early big league education now bearing fruit.