Boston Red Sox

Chili Davis explains how Xander Bogaerts worked through slump

Chili Davis explains how Xander Bogaerts worked through slump

BOSTON — On a night the Red Sox turned a triple play, the Red Sox player who mattered most was the one infielder uninvolved: Xander Bogaerts, the shortstop who came into a 10-4 win over the Cardinals hitting .178 since the start of July.

Bogaerts had three hits Tuesday, including a line single that was part of an eight-run fifth inning.

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The arrival of Eduardo Nunez and Devers has almost served to hide the shortstop that plays between them. Almost. But Bogaerts remains essential.

To hitting coach Chili Davis, Bogaerts appeared to be coming around during the last homestand.

“Upper body was getting over his lower body, getting over his legs too soon,” Davis said. “So [he was] trying to stay behind the ball and just doing drills to feel himself staying behind the ball, give himself a chance to read the ball a little better. And I thought he had some nice at-bats on the road. ... Tonight, you could see the aggressiveness back, the bat speed.”

But everything seems to tie back to Bogaerts’ right hand — both in terms of health and mechanics, and even communication about it. The top hand, and how to use it.

The process to get Bogaerts here has, at times, been painful. He was hit by a pitch on that hand on July 6.

“It's still a little bit in there,” Bogaerts said. “Some days are a little worse than others. It's something I've never dealt with in my career. You’ve just got to go out there, it's the end of the season, we're in a pretty good place right now as a team. You don't want to be on the bench right now. You just want to battle through stuff.”

Staying on the field is one matter. Getting your swing to a good place is another.

“Being a right-handed hitter, hitting right-handed, you know your strong hand is your right hand,” Davis said. “You want that to be your sort of … power hand, the one that speeds the barrel of the bat up through the ball. But it was leading the way. 

“It was coming a little choppy, kind of leading down on the ball, which when that starts going that way, everything starts going that way with it. So when he gets like more punchy with his swing, it keeps everything back and it explodes through the ball. 

“That’s kind of what he explained to us, Victor [assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez] and myself last homestand. When we got an understanding of what he was thinking, then it was like, 'Oh, because you’re preaching top hand, top hand, top hand' — and you know, top hand isn’t supposed to produce pop ups. But it can, if you do it the wrong way.”

The trouble for Bogaerts was parsing the proper action from the improper.

“In his mind, there was a misunderstanding in how he uses his top hand,” Davis said. “You know, and once he understood it, it got him back, it actually fixed a few things with him. He’s a smart kid and he takes things sometimes, I would say, literally. You know what I mean? 

“And when that happens, it’s confusing, because he’s trying to do the right thing, and it’s confusing, and it’s like, ‘Why am I doing everything I think I’m supposed to do, but then it’s not working?’ But then, when I look at my videos, I’m really not doing what I think I’m supposed to do, I’m doing something else.’ 

“And in essence, he was doing the right move on video, but he thought it was not the right move. He’s got a constant routine every day that he goes through and he sticks with it. He sticks with it. And he is so regimented with his routine that if you do anything wrong in that routine, for him, it carries into the game.”

Sox manager John Farrell echoed that sentiment, noting how important it is for Bogaerts to carry his batting practice successes into games. 

The injury may have been what threw Bogaerts off course to begin with.

“I know his hand bothered him yeah longer than we all know,” Davis said. “Because he was, he took a few days off and he was back in the lineup. And it doesn’t heal that fast. So that could have been another reason why all that stuff started happening.

“I can’t pinpoint when he started struggling, but, I know that might have — that didn’t help. Hopefully his hand’s feeling better and you know, if we get him hot, and Mookie [Betts] is swinging well. All the guys. Hanley [Ramirez has] been swinging the bat better. This is that stretch where you need everybody to start participating, picking each other up.”

That may be the case after every Sox starter had a hit Tuesday. 

Because Bogaerts was doing so poorly for such a prolonged time, the mental wear was impossible to avoid. Davis saw it too. 

Now, Bogaerts seems to have a handle on his swing.

“Sometimes you're wondering what you're even doing up there after you see the at-bat you had is pretty bad,” Bogaerts said. “Sometimes you have a good swing and can't do anything about it. Just try to take the positive from those type of stuff and move forward.”

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Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?

Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th pitcher in major-league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this . . . I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least he should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.

Red Sox rout Orioles, 9-0, and clinch playoff spot when Angels lose

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Red Sox rout Orioles, 9-0, and clinch playoff spot when Angels lose

BALTIMORE -- Chris Sale was at his very best - right down to his momentous last pitch - in another meaningful victory for the Boston Red Sox.

Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth hours after beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Boston (88-64) was assured at least a wild card and its second consecutive trip to the postseason when the Los Angeles Angels lost 6-5 to the Cleveland Indians. Of course, the Red Sox are looking for much more than that. They lead the AL East by three games over the rival New York Yankees with 10 to play as Boston pursues its third division title in five years.

"Given where we are in the standings and what is at stake, every win is important," manager John Farrell said. "Just getting into the playoffs is not our goal."

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his 111th and final pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Farrell sent Sale back out for the eighth inning to give him a shot at getting No. 300.

Thing is, the left-hander had no idea he was at 299 when the inning started.

"No, I didn't," Sale said. "I went out there and struck out the last guy and everyone started losing it. I knew I was close, but I didn't know I needed just one more."

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.

Betts and Marrero hit two-run homers in the fourth against Wade Miley (8-14), and Hanley Ramirez added a two-run double in the fifth.

Sale allowed four hits and walked none in matching his career high for wins.

"A dominant performance after a year that has been a dominant one," Farrell said.

Sale reached double figures in strikeouts for the 18th time this season. He is the 14th pitcher in the so-called Live Ball Era (1920-present) to ring up 300 strikeouts in a season.

It was his 10th scoreless outing of the season, tying the team record held by Babe Ruth (1916) and Martinez (2000 and 2002).

"It was fun. I felt good tonight," he said.

Sale faced a Baltimore lineup that was lacking two of its better hitters. Manny Machado was held out with an illness that manager Buck Showalter said the third baseman had been dealing with for nearly two weeks, and shortstop Tim Beckham was unavailable after having a wisdom tooth removed.

Not that it would have made much of a difference against Sale.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game and couple in the fact that we're not really operating on all cylinders offensively, you end up with a shutout," Showalter said.

In a streak that began in the sixth inning Monday night, Baltimore has gone 26 straight innings without scoring. The Orioles (73-80) were in the playoff hunt before losing 12 of their last 14 games.

SLUMP BUSTER

Boston's Dustin Pedroia doubled in two runs in the eighth inning to snap an 0-for-18 skid. He missed Tuesday night's game with a bruised nose.

PRICE CLOSING?

The Red Sox have plenty of pitchers in the bullpen, perhaps none more accomplished than former Cy Young Award winner David Price.

Price has been pitching in relief since returning from the DL on Sept. 14.

"He is available for multiple innings of relief tonight," Farrell said before the game. "I wouldn't be surprised if he were closing the game out."

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

Boston joins AL Central champion Cleveland and AL West champion Houston in the American League playoffs, which begin next month. Two spots are still up for grabs.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: INF Eduardo Nunez (knee sprain) fielded grounders and did some running but still has a way to go before returning to the lineup. "While the hitting and fielding portion has improved, we find that the running portion is going to take longer than we first anticipated," Farrell said.

Orioles: Closer Zach Britton will likely be shut down for the season. He's going to get a stem-cell injection in his left knee, and it would probably be foolish to test him again in a season that's gone south. "The most important thing for me is to be healthy going into next season," he said.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: After a day off Thursday, Boston sends 17-game loser Rick Porcello to the mound in the opener of a three-game interleague series at Cincinnati.

Orioles: Gabriel Ynoa (1-2, 4.18 ERA) helps Baltimore launch a four-game series Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, who - like the Orioles - remain only mathematically alive in the playoff chase.