The Christian Vazquez who stepped to the plate Saturday night against the Dodgers looked much different than the one who has been nothing short of spectacular to this point in July.
Vazquez struck out three times in four plate appearances, only the third time in his major league career that he has fanned three or more times in one game.
Three is also the number of times he had previously struck this month, which is partly why the Red Sox inserted him into the lineup at first base even though he had never played the position at this level.
With Sandy Leon catching for Chris Sale as usual Saturday, Alex Cora became creative and found a spot for Vazquez. The Red Sox didn’t want to play without him.
And for good reason.
Vazquez came into Saturday’s game on a home-run spree, having hit five in the past eight games. He has 15 on the season already, 10 more than his previous career high, after going deep only three times last season.
The home runs are just one piece of an overall power surge for Vazquez, who took a .302 batting average — second on the team — into Saturday’s game against the Dodgers.
“We have a lot of guys who have been up and down, guys that have gotten hot lately, guys that got hot in May,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “Some took longer than others, but he has pretty much been hot the whole year.”
That’s not by accident.
During the offseason, Vazquez spent significant time in Miami working with a hitting coach. They focused on changing his swing. Now, he swings in a way that Vazquez described as “up into the air.”
“A lot of teams, they’re doing a lot of shifts, and ground balls are out,” Vazquez said. “So I think you need to beat the shift and hit it to the gap so you can drive the ball better.”
Not just hitting the ball to the gap, but doing so with power. Vazquez has focused on driving up and with more power in hopes of tallying more doubles and improving his OPS, which sat at .869 going into Saturday, the highest of his career and a big response to getting paid this past offseason.
“That’s [what is] getting paid, so I need that,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez signed a three-year, $13.55 million contract extension in March, with a team option for 2022. So far, Vazquez’s attention to detail has paid off for him and the Red Sox, who were the American League’s only team with five 15-homer players prior to Saturday and who hadn’t had a catcher hit 15 home runs in one season since 2012, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit 25.
It’s Vazquez’s first double-digit home run season since 2011, when he smacked 18 in Single A with the Greenville Drive. He finished that year with two more than Bogaerts, who also played for Greenville at that time and went into Saturday’s game tied for the Red Sox lead in home runs with 18.
Vazquez’s confidence this season is no different than what he showed then, Bogaerts said.
“That’s one thing I can say about him. He has always been confident in himself,” Bogaerts said. “I think [the time spent on his swing in Miami] definitely changed him a lot. He should just continue to stick with that. It continues to pay off big for him.”
Not so much Saturday, however — a blemish in an otherwise impressive string of games in a somewhat surprising season from a Red Sox batter in the bottom half of the order.