In 2018, the Red Sox offense was the best in the majors in no small part because of the choices made by the team. When opposing pitchers left offerings in the middle of the strike zone, the Red Sox were primed to do damage.
The team swung at 77 percent of pitches that were located middle-middle — the middle third of the strike zone, both horizontally and vertically. This year, however, the Red Sox have been more passive against precisely the pitches against which they should be making the most noise.
Overall, the Red Sox have been swinging at roughly a league average number of strikes — but they haven’t been attacking the most vulnerable pitchers in the strike zone. According to the website Baseball Savant, the Red Sox had swung at 69 percent of middle-middle pitches entering Thursday, a mark that ranked 27th in the big leagues.
Meanwhile, they’ve been hacking at pitchers’ pitches at the edges of the zone, essentially inverting the approach that would allow them to be most effective.
“We need to keep preaching that all strikes are not equal,” said hitting coach Tim Hyers. “We need to be more selective with the strikes we’re swinging at.”
“We’re not making good swing decisions,” concurred manager Alex Cora. “We’re swinging at the edges of the strike zone, and we’re not swinging at the pitches in the middle of the strike zone.”
The lack of readiness to attack such pitches likely has contributed to the Red Sox’ offensive start, with the team entering Thursday’s 7-6 victory over the Blue Jays averaging 4.25 runs per game, below the big league average of 4.67 runs per game. Of particular note, Xander Bogaerts had taken eight pitches in that area (tied for second-most in the majors), while Mookie Betts had taken six pitches down the middle (tied for ninth) entering Thursday’s contest.
“I’ve just gotta start swinging,” said Betts. “We haven’t done anything well, so it’s hard to say [why it’s happening]. It’s just one of those things where hopefully it turns, and hopefully we start getting swings off on those pitches.”
Johnson is relieved
In Arizona last Friday, Brian Johnson feared the worst. The pain that arrived in his elbow when he threw a curveball to Eduardo Escobar persisted through the rest of his 1⅓ -inning appearance, and over the next day, he experienced swelling and discoloration in his elbow. He had obvious reason to believe he’d torn something and might be out for the rest of the year.
“It was, obviously, pretty scary,” said Johnson. “With the way it looked, I wasn’t super-excited. I thought for sure it was something not good.”
And so, an MRI on Monday provided considerable relief. Though Johnson is not able to throw due to inflammation and swelling, his elbow was diagnosed as structurally sound.
“It was very good news with the MRI,” said Johnson. “All the major stuff you assume was all good. It was more the little stuff around it that was just swelling.”
In search of his slider
After he suffered the loss in the home opener on Tuesday, lefthander Chris Sale received his World Series ring. “Well, I got something positive today,” he told Cora, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, and Red Sox principal owner John Henry.
Though Sale was disappointed with his results on Tuesday — five runs in four innings — the Red Sox, according to Cora, were able to gather a considerable amount of information about the cause of his struggles. (Fenway is equipped with cameras that capture both finger-positioning on the ball at the pitcher’s release point and biomechanical monitors.) To Cora, the pitcher’s fastball is less of a concern than his need to harness his slider.
“It’s the best slider in the game, and right now it’s not that,” said Cora. “You see flashes, but it’s not as consistent as usual. I think he’s going to get it, and he’s going to take off.”
Sale is next scheduled to start on Tuesday in New York against the Yankees. The Sox have yet to determine their starter against the Orioles on Marathon Monday.
Sale isn’t the only Red Sox pitcher whose slider has gone missing. Eduardo Rodriguez, who starts against Baltimore on Friday, worked to develop his slider as a fourth pitch (complementing his fastball, change, and cutter) in spring training, but he’s thrown just six so far this season.
“Maybe you’re going to see it more. It depends on who I’m facing. I feel good with it,” said Rodriguez (0-2, 12.38 ERA). “I’ve been working all these days. You’ll see what I found. I feel good, feel ready for my next start, and I’m ready to go out and pitch.”
A drone hovered high above the field at Fenway during the final innings of play, capturing the attention of Mitch Moreland prior to his final trip into the batter’s box. “It kind of threw me off. I looked up and I was, ‘Hey, they’re not supposed to have these around here, are they?’ ” recounted Moreland. “I figured I’d try to hit it or something.” According to a team spokesperson, the Boston Police Department is investigating the matter . . . Dustin Pedroia’s third-inning, run-scoring single gave him his first RBI since Sept. 29, 2017. He also stood in at second base on the pivot of two 6-4-3 double plays, and he started a 4-6-3 double play . . . Prior to the game, Mookie Betts (A.L. MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, batting champion, Wilson Defensive Player of the Year), J.D. Martinez (two Silver Slugger awards), and Jackie Bradley Jr. (Gold Glove) were recognized for the awards they won in 2018.