Brock Holt can hit lefties.
The Red Sox utility infielder has a compact swing and hand/eye coordination that allows him to make solid contact regardless of the handedness of opposing pitchers. For his career, he has a slightly higher average (.273 to .271) and on-base percentage (.354 to .336) against lefthanders than righthanders.
This season, however, his opportunities to face lefties have dwindled. Entering Thursday, he had stepped to the plate just 24 times against southpaws, posting a .211/.333/.263 line — albeit with four walks and just one strikeout. With righthanded hitters Eduardo Nunez (before his release) and Michael Chavis (before landing on the injured list) offering the prospect of greater thump against lefties, Holt had received few opportunities against them.
But on Thursday — one day after manager Alex Cora elected to use Chris Owings (whose 56 percent strikeout rate against lefties this year is the highest in big league history) as a pinch hitter for Marco Hernandez rather than Holt — Cora let Holt bat against Royals lefthander Richard Lovelady with runners on first and second in the 10th inning of a 4-4 game. Holt rewarded the decision, drilling a slider down the left field line for a single, the second walkoff hit of his career and the first in more than five years.
“I don’t mind facing lefties. I feel like I’m comfortable against them,” said Holt. “Obviously, the more you face them, the more comfortable you are. But I’m ready whenever my name is called. I play when my name is in the lineup. It hasn’t been in there against lefties recently, but it’s not an uncomfortable feeling for me. I feel like I’m a good player and can help the team regardless of if there’s a righty or a lefty out there. So today I’m glad I was able to show that.”
Holt has been taking advantage of such opportunities more often than not since his return from an odd succession of injuries at the start of the year. He opened the year by going 1 for 16 with seven strikeouts while trying to play through a cornea scratch he suffered just prior to Opening Day.
He spent nearly two months on the injured list because of the eye injury followed by a shoulder impingement. But since returning to the team on May 27, Holt is now hitting .347/.413/.486 in 53 games.
“We missed Brock in the early part of the season,” said Cora. “He can play second, he can pinch hit, he can play different positions. He’s a quality at-bat.”
With the walkoff hit, Holt wrapped up the suspended game 2 for 3 with two walks — the 17th time in his career and first in 2019 that he’d reached base four times. Even so, his playing time of late has been limited, with Thursday marking Holt’s fifth plate appearance since Aug. 13.
“I’m just trying to stay ready to play,” said Holt. “Whenever my name is called, I think that’s kind of what I’ve been doing my whole career up to this point, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do: Be ready to play and try to help the team win whenever I can.”
Josh Taylor served as the bridge across time and space. The lefthanded reliever was on the mound facing Meibrys Viloria in the top of the 10th inning on Aug. 7 when the game was suspended because of rain, and he returned there — with a 2-1 count against pinch hitter Nick Dini — on Thursday afternoon.
How did he stay loose and ready over the interceding 15 days?
“It was tough,” smirked Taylor, “but you have to find a way to get through that adversity.”
Taylor did just that, retiring Dini and two subsequent Royals in 10 pitches, then claiming his first career victory. Yet while credit for a win represented a milestone in his young career, Taylor is now a couple of months into the making of a quiet case as a potentially dominant bullpen option.
After he allowed six earned runs in his first five big league innings early in the season, Taylor returned to the majors in mid-June and has overpowered opponents. In 31 appearances, he has a 1.69 ERA, 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings, and has held hitters to a .170/.242/.241 line.
“He’s a guy that we count on,” said Cora.
Lefthander David Price threw a bullpen session after the completion of the game, his third since landing on the injured list because of a cyst in his left wrist. Barring a setback, he may be a consideration to start on Sunday in San Diego . . . The Red Sox clubhouse was upbeat following the 12-minute completion of the game. Third base coach Carlos Febles jumped into a pack of reporters and volunteered to start answering questions as Holt looked on with amusement and befuddlement. “I was like, ‘Why are they interviewing Carlos? He must have been fired or something,’ ” mused Holt . . . Reliever Josh Smith enjoyed the novelty of celebrating a win in which he’d spent the first nine innings (on Aug. 7) in Triple A. “I was like, ‘Am I allowed to pitch today? What are the rules?’ It was kind of crazy. I’ve never really been a part of anything like that,” said Smith. “It was like a one-inning game — like sudden-death baseball, almost like a hockey game. It was cool. It will be something I tell my son when he’s older, ‘This one time, I played a one-inning game in the big leagues — and we won.’ ”