Dave D'Onfrio's Sox Beat: Sox offense may have new look
BOSTON - DON'T GO by the results, because even during his doubt-inducing descent from a borderline All-Star to a candidate for demotion, those have occasionally and briefly been there for Xander Bogaerts. There was a homer that started a four-game hit streak, but was followed by a stretch of 2-for-50. He had a couple hits one afternoon, then proceeded to go 1 for his next 16.
So when seeking a suggestion that the rookie with superstar potential is turning a corner in his efforts to emerge from a lengthy slump, don't just look at the home run he hit to help rally the Red Sox to a win Friday night - look at where it landed.
That would be above the camera well in center field at Fenway Park. And that would be an indication of the type of balance, approach and fundamentals it's going to take for Bogaerts to get past his recent problems on a basis more permanent than the blips that have provoked false hope here and there.
"That was pretty good. Staying inside of the ball, I was trying to hit something the opposite way," he said of the swing he put on an 85 mph cutter that James Shields left out over the plate. "My bat (has been) rolling over a lot of stuff, and that's a bad feeling.
"But I'll take that one every day."
So will his manager, who agreed with Bogaerts that driving the ball to - and out of - that part of the park is a good sign of progress. Over his last 29 games leading into the All-Star break, the third baseman had batted just .103, and of his 11 hits only two had been to the right side of second base. Of those, one was an infield single.
In those 107 at-bats he'd hit just two line drives to the opposite field, while far too frequently yanking ground balls to the left side of the infield. But in three official trips Friday night, on top of working a walk, Bogaerts bounced to shortstop just once, while also stinging a liner to left - and drawing the Sox within one with his straight-away shot to center.
"He stayed behind the ball, where in a number of swings, we see him get out to his front side and he's kind of lunging forward," John Farrell said. "There was good leverage to his swing, and to drive the ball out of the ballpark to center field, you've got to have some things work correct in your swing. That was the case."
And if it continues to be the case, the American League's least-productive first-half offense could start to look completely different. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli have all along been decent in the middle of the order, but are sorely lacking protection behind them.
If Bogaerts' bat comes alive, he's got the power and the promise to provide that. Then factor in the continued success of Brock Holt, with the recent surges of Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia, plus the return of Shane Victorino, and suddenly this lineup seems to have some length.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The results have surfaced for Bogaerts on occasion before, so it's about consistency moving forward.
And where he's hitting the ball with authority could be a clue as to whether that's arrived.
"Hopefully this gives him a chance to breathe a little bit," Farrell said. "It's his first extra-base hit in a while. Hopefully it allows him to see some of the work he's been doing."
JONNY GOMES wanted to make one thing clear late Friday night. "I'll just go ahead and get it out there," said the outfielder with a sly grin. "I'm not chasing any of Ted Williams' records."
Well, maybe not consciously, but after launching a go-ahead long ball against the Royals, Gomes did find himself in pursuit of one standard set by the Splendid Splinter. With his sixth in barely a year and a half with the team, he moved within one of Williams' record of seven pinch-hit homers as a member of the Red Sox.
It's a testament to his preparedness - knowing that Kansas City has a couple of lefties in its bullpen, "that at-bat technically started about 2 o'clock for me," he said - and it's a tribute to a flair for the moment that has in many ways come to define the Boston phase of his well-traveled career.
"When my number is called on I just have to feast on the opportunity," Gomes said. "It's something I have to do. You take that away from my tools and what I bring to a club, you might not being seeing much No. 5."
How long he remains in that No. 5 jersey is in some question, with the Royals said to have interest in trading for a player hitting .313 with an .873 on-base plus slugging - even before being victimized by his capabilities on Friday. But Gomes insists he's not focused on the rumors, and instead says he's putting all his attention on salvaging a season he believes to be very much alive.
"Before the break, first day after the break, our goal hasn't changed," Gomes said after his Sox won for the fifth time in six games. "Our goal is still to win the division and win that last game of the year. Our goal hasn't changed one bit here. Obviously we understand the date and we understand that we've dug ourselves in a hole a little bit, but we're not trying to 'turn the corner' by any means. We're just trying to win as many games as we can."
IF THE Red Sox do reach a point where they start selling off pieces, the back end of their bullpen could fetch them a nice return - especially if the market remains where it was set Friday, when the Angels acquired Huston Street from the Padres.
To get the closer they've lacked, Los Angeles gave up their top prospect (second baseman Taylor Lindsey) and a promising 20-year-old infielder (Jose Rondon) among a package of four minor leaguers. LA also got 21-year-old Double-A reliever Trevor Gott in the swap, though even while operating without a general manager it would seem San Diego did well, especially considering Street could be a free agent at the end of the season.
On that landscape, Koji Uehara and the recently automatic Andrew Miller could both carry significant value.
STAT of the week: As Jon Lester makes the next start of his contract push this afternoon, he ranks sixth in the AL with a 2.65 earned run average this season. Other categories he ranks in the league's top 10 through Friday include: fielding independent pitching (2.61, second); strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.62, sixth); strikeouts (134, seventh); innings (129, eighth); walks and hits per inning pitched (1.14, ninth); and home runs per nine innings (0.56, ninth).
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.