BOSTON His major league debut went about as well as he could have hoped.In the starting lineup. Playing third base. Batting eighth. His parents in the stands. At Fenway Park.Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox highly valued prospect, was in la-la land, he said for the first few innings of Wednesday nights game against the As. Then it hit him that this is just another game.So he continued the pace he had been setting with Triple-A Pawtucket.Middlebrooks went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base. The only other batter in the Red Sox lineup with as many as two hits was David Ortiz.The only downer to his night was the final score, as the Sox lost to the As, 4-2.It was unbelievable, Middlebrooks said. Words cant describe it. To come here to Fenway Park and to play with these guys. Its unreal.Middlebrooks walked on four pitches in his first career plate appearance in the second inning, then promptly stole second. He had an infield single in the fifth for his first career hit.Man, I wish I could get a real hit, he thought to himself after the hit. The next one was better.Indeed it was, as he doubled into the right field corner in the seventh, before striking out in the eighth. His batting average stands at .667, with a 1.000 slugging percentage, and .750 on-base percentage.Those numbers wont stay so lofty. But for one night, they sure look good.I wish we could be in there all celebrating and sharing the delight that hed really have if this were a victory, manager Bobby Valentine said. But this was a terrific game. He played nice defense. The walk, the hustle, the stolen base. He was one of the right-handed hitters to go with that cutter to right field.Did a good job.
BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.
Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.
But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.
In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.
“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”
That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.
Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.
“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.
From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.
“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”
Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.
“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”
“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”
It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.
“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”
Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.
“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”
Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.
“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”
Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.
Three things we learned from the Red Sox' 9-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays
BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 9-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays
"Rick has been the model of consistency.'' - John Farrell on starter Rick Porcello
"It means that we have a heck of a team, really. The runs we put up, and I don't think anybody talks about our defense.'' - Porcello, asked about the significance of being baseball's first 18-game winner.
"It's cool to be a part of that, but we're in a race right now and that's way more important.'' - Mookie Betts on the crowd chants of "MVP!" during his at-bat.
* Hanley Ramirez has nine extra-base hit in the last 15 games.
* Opposing baserunners have stolen only 54 percent of the time when Sandy Leon is behind the plate, the lowest figure for any Red Sox catcher (minimum 20 games) since 1987
* Brock Holt tied a season high with three hits, including two with two outs and runners in scoring position.
* Mookie Betts set a career high with 72 extra-base hits.
* Betts became the third player in franchise history to have a 30-homer season before the age of 24. Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro are the others.
* Betts has five homers and 13 RBI in his last five home games.
* Rick Porcello is just the fifth major league pitcher since 1913 to begin a season 13-0 at home
* Porcello is the third Red Sox pitcher to win 18 of his first 21 decisions after Cy Young (1902) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (2008)
* David Ortiz leads the majors in doubles, slugging percentage and OPS.
1) Rick Porcello
The righthander became the first 18-game winner in the big leagues and he did it by supplying seven innings for the sixth straight start while improving to 13-0 at home.
2) Mookie Betts
Betts gave the Red Sox an early lead with his 30th homer of the year, becoming the third player in franchise history to reach that milestone before the age of 24.
3) Travis Shaw
Shaw broke out of a month-long slump with a three-hit game, including a double, to go along with two RBI.