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Bogaerts’ woes become a worry

Boston Herald

July 02. 2014 9:34PM
Red Sox starting pitcher Brandon Workman throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning Wednesday at Fenway Park. For a recap of the game, which ended too late for this edition, visit our website, (USA TODAY Sports)

Jackie Bradley’s struggles we get. Mookie Betts is inevitably going to experience a learning curve. If Christian Vazquez makes a cameo, he’ll be batting ninth.

But Xander Bogaerts? Isn’t he supposed to be a superstar by now?

Those expectations accompanied the mega-prospect and Rookie of the Year hopeful into this Red Sox season, and they weren’t necessarily unrealistic. Bogaerts contributed to last year’s World Series title run at the tender age of 21, controlling the strike zone, starting rallies and looking every bit a worthy member of the Trout-Harper-Machado Club.

And until about the second week of June, he looked right on track. Maybe he hadn’t exhibited game-changing power, but all signs pointed to a dynamic middle-of-the-order fixture who’d probably be hitting third by the All-Star break.

After going 2-for-5 in an 8-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers on June 7, Bogaerts found himself batting .299 with an .840 OPS. His .387 on-base percentage ranked among the top 10 in the American League. He may not have been a superstar, but his day was coming.

And then the last 3½ weeks happened.

In 20 games through last night’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs, Bogaerts has endured the slump of nightmares; his 0-for-3 with two strikeouts dropped him to 6-for-72 (.083). The last 11 games have been the worst, with Bogaerts just 2-for-42 (.048).

His season numbers have obviously suffered, with his average falling to .245 and his OPS to .695, the first time it has dropped below .700 since early May.

“Young player, the team is going through tough times — he’s trying to do too much,” assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez said.

Bogaerts actually looked marginally better Tuesday night, particularly when he drove what looked to be a sure RBI double to deep straightaway center field, only to see the Cubs’ Justin Ruggiano corral it with an acrobatic leaping, twisting catch. The Sox lost the game, 2-1.

He also struck out twice and continued to struggle with sliders away, a pitch his right-center approach suggests he should crush. But manager John Farrell and Rodriguez broke down a mechanical flaw in Bogaerts’ swing that is hurting his ability to identify pitches.

“More than anything, he’s rushing a little bit in the box,” Farrell said. “He’s rushing out to his landing and whether that allows him to see the ball clearly in flight, that’s where you see that early commitment and the slider is probably giving him a little bit of trouble right now.”

Rodriguez went into further detail. Bogaerts is opening up too early, which causes him to start his swing before he has even identified the pitch, leaving him susceptible to hard breaking balls away.

“This kid, when he’s really good and he stays in the big part of the field, the ball has more travel,” Rodriguez said. “Right now his first move is to open up a little too quick. I think he’s trying to do too much, instead of trusting what he’s got. When you commit before you’re seeing the ball and before you recognize it, you’re going to have trouble. You’ve got to see the ball before you can make the decision if you’re going to swing.”

Rodriguez offers Bogaerts daily reminders of what made him successful last postseason, when he started as many rallies with walks as hits.

“He was controlling his at-bats, instead of trying to do more with his at-bats,” Rodriguez said. “He was really good seeing pitches, working counts, taking the walks when they gave them to him, hitting the ball where it’s pitched. He’s just getting back to that. It’s easier said than done. . . . He came up in a tough situation last year and he handled himself really well. He just needs to get back to that frame of mind.”

The tools are obvious, and slump aside, Bogaerts has every chance to be great. But getting there won’t be as easy as lacing up his cleats. It’s going to take some work.