ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — His slumps, if you could even label them as such, never lasted longer than a few days, a week at the most. Andrew Benintendi’s natural, well-balanced swing was as reliable as the sunrise.
It produced one line drive after another, right through high school, college, a quick tour of the minors, and then his debut with the Red Sox less than a month after he turned 22.
But over the last calendar year, Benintendi has destroyed a series of batting helmets, venting his frustration after popping up or missing fastballs he used to drive into the gap.
“I try not to do it. But, yeah, there have been a few helmets,” Benintendi said before the Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-4, on Monday. “I make sure none of y’all see it.”
“That’s an understatement,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s always been fiery. He plays the part that he’s even-keeled and very quiet.”
From July 21, 2018, to July 21, 2019, Benintendi hit .267 with a .742 OPS over 141 games. He was dropped from hitting leadoff to sixth and at least temporarily lost his standing as a player the Red Sox would certainly want to build around for years to come.
At a point in the game’s history where home runs fly off bats like never before, Benintendi had seven over what amounted to a full season.
“This isn’t me,” said Benintendi, who has struck out on nearly 24 percent of his plate appearances this season, an 8 percent climb from 2018. “The biggest difference is when I get my pitch, I’m fouling it off. I’m late or I’m early. I’m not swinging with the same confidence. It feels like a combination of things.
“Historically, I’ve never really hit a lot of home runs besides in college. I’m more of a doubles hitter. But I should have more than that.”
Benintendi was 3 for 5 with a double and a home run on Monday. The home run, a blast to right field, capped a seven-run third inning. It was his first since June 10 and first on the road since May 8.
Those are good signs. But Benintendi wants to see production for weeks at a time, not occasional games.
“By far this is the worse it’s been for me in my career,” he said. “There hasn’t been a hot streak forever. I’m grinding just to do something to help the team. It could be way worse, that’s how I see it. But I feel like I’m hitting .100.”
In addition to watching hours of video and working with the coaches, Benintendi swaps text messages with his father, Chris.
“He knows my swing just as well as I do,” Benintendi said. “He’ll see things and send some advice. But I have to go up there and hit it. I get a lot of advice, and I try to simplify it when I get to the plate.”
The latest adjustment has been to shorten his leg kick and make it more of a stride than a pronounced step. That improves his balance and should add power.
“It’s more what I had in college,” Benintendi said. “It’s comfortable.”
Benintendi did not hit well last summer, but few took notice because the Red Sox were piling up victories en route to winning the World Series. His struggles have made more of an impact this season with the Sox fighting to stay in contention.
He was bumped down the lineup as a result.
“It’s not as fun now,” Benintendi said. “I’m trying to stay positive. I wasn’t bothered when they moved me down. I understand how it works. But that had never really happened before.”
Manager Alex Cora has given Benintendi more days off that he’s had before. But all with the idea of helping him regain that sweet swing.
“He’s a pure hitter; everybody knows it,” Cora said. “We’re working hard at it, and he’s working hard. It hasn’t happened. That’s not who he is.
“We believe in the player. We believe in him. He’s hit his whole career.”
Benintendi and his father have discussed the idea that this slump will prove beneficial in the long run. No player goes through his career without challenges, and this experience can help him more quickly solve the next downturn.
“You have to learn from everything in this game,” Benintendi said. “It’s a negative game at times because you fail so often. I feel like this will make me better.”
For now, his batting helmets pay the price.
“I should probably stop doing that,” Benintendi said. “I’m getting older now.”