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.”
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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.”