TORONTO — When manager Alex Cora came over from the Houston Astros, one of the main adjustments he wanted to make to Mookie Betts’s game was for him to be aggressive early in the count.
Houston’s leadoff batter was — and still is — George Springer, who was aggressive in the strike zone from the start of the game.
“For me it’s all about, I’m ready to hit from the first pitch and that’s it,” Springer said prior to the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland. “The first, the second, the fifth, I can make an out on any of them, so I might as well do damage on the first.
Betts is an overall better hitter than Springer. But Cora’s idea was that Betts, like Springer, could benefit from this approach, too. It didn’t quite stick last year, and how could it? Betts had an MVP season doing it the way he’s always done by working the count.
But this season, as Betts tried at certain points to find his swing, he decided to give it a shot. In his game against the Minnesota Twins in last week’s 6-2 win, Betts swung at first pitches in separate at-bats. He homered on both of them.
Tuesday night in Toronto, he did it again on the first pitch of the game.
“It couldn’t get any worse,” Betts following the Sox’ 4-3 loss on why he made the adjustment. “I was hitting in some tough counts and spots, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2. I just said it is what it is at this point. Something has to change and that was it.”
From the start of the season through June 30, Betts swung at the first pitch 22.86 percent of the time. From July 2 through Monday, Betts upped that total to 37.6 percent, and he’s hit .329 with 15 homers in that span.
Numbers suggest that he has success when he swings at the first pitch.
Entering Tuesday, he had 21 homers when swinging at the first pitch to go along with a .321 batting average and 72 RBIs.
Taking pitches was something he was taught as a kid in the leadoff spot, Betts said, and he had to break that habit. Now, it’s paying off.
“I just had to keep talking to him. He feels good about his swing,” Cora said. “You guys see it. He’s on top of the ball and I think it started in Anaheim. When he starts hitting line drives and they go out of the ballpark, he’s in a great place. I’m happy he’s buying into it and feels good.
“The thing is, he has to feel good to be aggressive. Right now, he’s in a great frame of mind and his swing looks great.”