Mookie Betts tinkers with stance in bid to regain MVP form: ‘It's not wearing me down … it's a challenge'


BOSTON -  What a strange season for Mookie Betts. The defending MVP ranks sixth in the American League in WAR and needs only a hot couple of weeks to secure his fourth straight All-Star appearance.

And yet . . . Betts is searching. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in a 5-1 loss to the Rays on Friday, dropping his average to .268 with 10 homers and 29 RBI. A year after winning his first batting title with a .346 average, Betts has spent only one day above .300 since the third game of the season.

On Friday, he looked to be tinkering with his stance, holding his bat high and standing upright like former Rockies All-Star Troy Tulowitzki, albeit with an open stance. This was in direct contrast to last year's athletic coil, with the bat dangling beyond horizontal over his shoulder before whipping through the zone.

Betts downplayed the idea of changing his stance -- "Just working on a couple of different things," he said -- but made it clear he'll do whatever he can to regain last year's form.

"It's not wearing me down," he said. "It's just one of those things, I've got to figure out what it is. I'm controlling the strike zone. It's just a matter of time before I figure something out. It's more of a challenge."

Hitting coach Tim Hyers and manager Alex Cora reiterated that Betts is controlling the strike zone, as evidenced by his team-leading 45 walks and .385 on-base percentage. But both also acknowledged he's not quite right.

"I think he's trying to do too much," Hyers said. "He's one of the guys that, he's trying to help the team out, and [opposing pitchers] spin the ball away from him a lot and sometimes I think he overswings a little bit and gets himself out front and you're seeing a lot more cue shots and more rollovers then we've seen in the past."

Added Cora: "He's just missing pitches. . . He's been swinging a lot the last three days and he's staying within the zone, so that's positive. I think it's just a matter of time. He keeps doing that, good things are going to happen. Hitting the ball in the air. He's trying, he's pushing hard to get that swing, but right now he's not there."

Betts is renowned for his work ethic and relentlessly attacking his flaws. If that means hundreds of extra swings a day, then he'll take them.

"Just trying to figure it out," he said. "It's not going to come by not working. It's a work in progress, and all I can say is that I'm working on it."

Some of that might involve adjusting his stance, which on Friday meant starting high before breaking down as the pitch is released.

"He did that a lot last year, too," Hyers said. "Just more getting his hands adjusted. Sometimes he's a little more narrow, sometimes a little more spread out. He's always tinkering with that. He opens up sometimes, he feels like he's jumping, things like that. Nothing major. Just little small things he does here and there. He's a feel guy."

What does he gain from going more upright?

"He's trying to stay above the ball, make sure his hips don't leak and work underneath it too much," Hyers said, which might explain why anecdotally Betts seems to be popping up more this year.

On this date a year ago, Betts was hitting .343 with 22 homers and 44 RBI. This feels more like 2017, when he followed a second-place finish in the MVP race by regressing. On this date back then, he was hitting .259 with nine homers and 33 RBI. He still ended up with 24 homers, 102 RBI, and an .803 OPS.

Because he's generally swinging at the right pitches, a return to form feels distinctly possible. The Red Sox are counting on it.

"Mookie can turn it around in a heartbeat," Hyers said. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself, tries to do a lot for the team, and sometimes when you do that, you just overswing, mis-hit some balls that you should've put in play and fall behind. Yeah, there's a few mechanical things he needs to straighten up, but I think a lot of it is more mental than physical."


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