TORONTO — Andrew Benintendi was out of the lineup Thursday for the Red Sox’ series finale against the Blue Jays, but it was by no means a day off.
Benintendi showed up to Rogers Centre early to work out kinks with a swing that’s been inconsistent much of the season. He did some problem-solving in the cage with Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers in hopes of rediscovering the power that has been largely absent this season.
“We need him to feel hitter-ish again,” said Sox manager Alex Cora. before the Sox’ 8-7 win. “I think his swing is not where he wants to be. I don’t want to say he’s frustrated, but kind of like one of those where I feel like unplug him today, show up early, work with Timmy and hopefully he can see the results right away.”
While still productive, Benintendi’s numbers have ticked down this season. His slash line has dropped to .266/.347/.421 from .290/.366/.465 a year ago He’s hit just seven homers and driven in just 36 runs. His contact percentage is down to 75 percent. His line-drive rate is down to 23 percent.
“It’s one of those that the numbers, they’re close, but it doesn’t feel that way,” Cora said. “And he doesn’t feel great mechanically, so he’s working on a few things today in the cage here early and, like I said, hopefully, it works out.”
Benintendi’s power outage can be traced back to last year’s All-Star break. In the first half of the season, he hit .297 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs. In the second half, he hit .279 with two homers and 30 RBIs. But Cora said there’s no carryover.
“I don’t think so,” Cora said. “I think it’s more about this year. Even in spring training, he found his rhythm a little bit there, but he doesn’t feel as hitter-ish. His hands are not firing the way they usually do. If you look at videos of Andrew in college all the way to last year, it’s the same swing. Now it’s a lot of swing and misses, a lot of chasing pitches up in the zone. Early in the season, it was breaking balls down and in.”
Benintendi was still available to pinch hit, but the larger goal was getting back on track.
“So there’s a few things that they worked on today and it’s a matter of going out there — if it’s tonight, tonight,” Cora said. “But whatever it is, at least they’re on the same page as far as that and where to go and hopefully it works out.”
After joining the team in Toronto on Wednesday, righthander Heath Hembree was activated Thursday. His presence gives the Sox a much-missed arm out of the bullpen.
Hembree was 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 31 appearances before going on the disabled list June 14 with a right elbow extensor strain. Hembree made a rehab appearance for Triple A Pawtucket on Tuesday, striking out two in one inning.
Before he went down, Cora used Hembree in several different situations but largely in the seventh inning.
“It’s important for us,” Cora said. “He was throwing the ball well. He’s a guy that he can get lefties or righties out, he gets people to weak contact, he attacks the guys the right way, so it’s great to have him back.”
Sale on six-plus days
Even though Chris Sale’s comfort level with Sandy Leon behind the plate is airtight, Cora made the decision to pair Sale with Christian Vazquez on Wednesday to add some pop to the lineup and give Sale some of the run support he’s been lacking.
Sale gave up five runs in 5⅔ innings, including three home runs. All three homers (and six of his nine hits) came on Sale’s fastball, a pitch he leaned on more heavily than he had in any other start this season.
Vazquez has caught Sale six times this season. In those starts, Sale has a 6.68 ERA and he’s given up nine homers.
“We’ll keep working the way we always do,” Cora said. “I know Sandy has caught him most of the time, so whenever he pitches, we’ll make a decision and we’ll go with a catcher.”
Sale won’t pitch again until after the All-Star break. Extended rest is typically a plus, for any pitcher but Sale has pitched on at least six days’ rest six times this season and he’s 0-5 with an 8.48 ERA in those starts.
“He’s going to start and we expect him to be great,” Cora said.
“I know it hasn’t happened yet, but this guy is one of the elite pitchers in the big leagues. We know it. We’re looking at everything from usage to other stuff, but at the end, it really doesn’t matter. When he’s on, he’s one of the best. So he’ll pitch when we give him the ball.”
Sox sign pick
The Red Sox signed 10th-round pick Stephen Scott on Thursday. The outfielder out of Vanderbilt will head to short-season Single A Lowell.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org