If he hasn’t already, Bobby Dalbec should be finding some time this week to find Jackie Bradley Jr. The Red Sox newcomer owes the outfielder a thank-you.
Dalbec, who was called up for his Red Sox debut on Aug. 30, the day that Mitch Moreland was traded to the Padres, had been scuffling in his first week in the majors when he found a new source of good luck from his teammate: his bat.
On one of his days off last week, the first baseman picked up Bradley’s bat in the batting cage and couldn’t put it down. Bradley was swinging a hot bat at the time, but he let the rookie use it.
The rest is history — literally. Since Dalbec started using Bradley’s bat in Saturday’s victory over the Blue Jays, the rookie has homered in every game. With his two-run shot that lifted the Red Sox to a 5-2 victory over the Phillies in the nightcap of Tuesday’s doubleheader, Dalbec became the first rookie in Red Sox history to homer in four consecutive games.
“It feels amazing,” Dalbec said. “It’s crazy. I would never think that I would have some crazy stat like that and my name to be in there, but I’m very fortunate to be in this position, so it’s awesome.”
Though he did homer in his first career game, Dalbec struggled with his plate discipline in the games after, something that’s followed him throughout his minor-league career. He struck out 11 times in his first 18 at-bats, and his whiff rate was at 50 percent through four games.
Dalbec went back to the drawing board. Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said Dalbec looked over some of his film from college in an effort to get back to the basics. The issue had to do with using his lower body better; Dalbec explained he was too heavy on his front side, which was forcing him to miss pitches he felt he shouldn’t.
“That first move that he makes was just trying to make it compact so he could get into his legs, and what I mean by that is just the balance once you reach the ground, when your stride-foot hits the ground, that balanced position to allow his hands to work,” Hyers said. “If he makes contact, you see the power. It impacts the game.”
That’s been on full display in his last four games. His go-ahead jack in Tuesday’s nightcap might have been the most impressive of them all, as he took a pitch to the opposite field that traveled 408 feet (at 108.9 mph) to the right-field seats. He made it look effortless.
“Even when he hit it, the sound wasn’t the same as other guys hit the ball but you saw how far up that thing went, it wasn’t even close,” Sox manager Ron Roenicke said. “Just tremendous power. If he can continue to play good defense and make good contact, it’ll be fun to watch.”
No one expected this type of surge to start Dalbec’s career, not even Chaim Bloom, the man responsible for calling up the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox’ system. Bloom is structuring the future of this team, which, by early indications, looks like Dalbec will be a significant part of.
“We knew Bobby had the talent to get off to a good start but this kind of power display isn’t something we had the right to expect out of anyone,” Bloom said. “What’s been most exciting is how he adjusted so well from his first big league slump. As he has throughout his career, he put the work in and figured a few things out. He’ll have to keep adjusting as he goes — we know that — but this is a very encouraging way to begin.”
Roenicke, for as long as he’s been involved in baseball, has never seen anything like it.
“I’ve seen some great starts but not the home runs like this, so we talk about it and that’s what we were hoping for,” Roenicke said. “We talked about putting the ball in play more and he’s doing it and also got a big base hit for us so that’s really fun to see. With all the things going on, it’s great to see a young guy start off like that.”
Dalbec is realistic. He never set goals like hitting five homers in his first nine big-league games and knows there are more slumps ahead while pitchers adjust to him. For now, though, he’s providing a glimpse of what should be a bright future.
“I just want to have good at-bats,” Dalbec said. “Obviously I haven’t had ... I had a rough stretch and still striking out a little bit but I feel really good up there so I’m just staying confident and staying aggressive and hopefully things will work out. I’ve just got to keep getting better.”
And, perhaps, continue to use Bradley’s bat.