24 May 19
HOUSTON — It appears the Red Sox are moving away from Andrew Benintendi in the leadoff spot.
At least against left-handed pitchers.
Benintendi was batting sixth for the second straight game on Friday evening as the Red Sox prepared for a three-game series with the Houston Astros. WIth the left-handed Wade Miley on the mound, Michael Chavis hit leadoff, the same arrangement the Sox went with against Blue Jays lefty Clayton Richard on Thursday.
Asked why he made the change, manager Alex Cora pointed to the short left-field porch at Minute Maid Park.
“It’s right there,” Cora said. “(Chavis) runs into one and it’s damage right away. I don’t know, we might go that way with lefties. It’s something I’m considering.”
Chavis is pounding lefties to the tune of a .980 OPS with four homers in 31 plate appearances. This isn’t anything new; he had a 1.030 OPS with five homers in 38 plate appearances against lefties in the minors before his call-up.
Benintendi continues to struggle against lefties and the Red Sox aren’t running away from him just yet, but they think they found a better option. He’s stayed in the leadoff spot against righties, who he’s hit .284 with an .806 OPS against, but he’s hitting .205 with a .671 OPS vs. lefties.
“His on-base percentage (.389) is way up against lefties,” Cora noted. “He’s walking against lefties, just, he’s not doing damage against them.”
Despite the poor results, Cora said he doesn’t want to see Benintendi change anything against lefties, who have held him to a .231 average and .646 OPS over his career.
“As far as like the quality of at-bats, they’re good at-bats,” Cora said. “He’s hitting sixth so it’s not like he’s hitting ninth for us or down in the order. He’s going to find some traffic and this is a guy we trust.”
FINALLY, A BREATHER
It couldn’t have been easy to take Rafael Devers out of the lineup, but Cora felt it was time.
Before Friday night, Devers hadn’t missed a game this year, having played in the first 50. He hadn’t been out of the starting lineup since April 23, when the Sox played a doubleheader.
“He needs it the rest,” Cora said. “He’s been playing every game, getting on base at a high rate, running the bases.”
Eduardo Nunez filled in for Devers, who is hitting .355 with a .991 OPS in his last 25 games.
“He’s been amazing,” Cora said of Devers. “Start looking at stats and where he’s at in the league, all that, it’s fun. We’re very proud of him because he worked in the offseason to get to his weight and working on his defense and all that. Everything is paying off.”
After starting the year with nine errors in 31 games, Devers hasn’t made an error since May 2.
“He’s more consistent now because of his footwork,” Cora said. “I read somewhere he wants to be a complete player. That’s part of it. He takes a lot of pride. . . . It’s cool to see because at one point you’re like, ‘what’s going to happen here?’ But his footwork has been a lot better on routine plays.” . . .
J.D. Martinez returned to the lineup after missing time with back spasms.
“He’s better,” Cora said. “He hit earlier so he’s ready to go (Astros manager A.J. Hinch) was hoping he doesn’t play this weekend but he makes the big bucks, he has to play.”
SLOW RETURN TO MVP FORM
Is Steve Pearce finally turning a corner?
The World Series MVP hit his first homer of the season on Thursday, but he’s still hitting just .171 with a .497 OPS this season.
“He put a good swing yesterday for the home run but he drove the ball to right field with two strikes which it was a good sign,” Cora said. “His mechanical, his confidence. His confidence was at an all-time low, to be honest with you. And it seems like yesterday he was finally able to breathe, like, ‘oof, I didn’t lose it.’ He’s got a match up today against a lefty, that’s what he’s here for and hopefully he can put some good swings on it.”
Cora has maintained that he has faith in Pearce despite the poor results.
“Mechanically he was way off,” the manager said. “Early in the season he was way off. … It was a work in progress, so little by little he kept fixing a few things and at the end, it’s like everything, you stay with the process and good things are going to happen.”
Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) will throw a bullpen on Saturday and another one next week before the Sox decide his next step. Hector Velazquez will stay in the bullpen and Ryan Weber could get another start in Eovaldi’s absence.
Brock Holt (eye) started at shortstop in his rehab game for Double-A Portland on Friday and could return to the Sox here this weekend, if all goes well.
Dustin Pedroia played just four innings at second base in that game before he was removed. He’s just 3-for-21 with five strikeouts since returning to his rehab assignment on May 17.
“With Pedey, he’s making strides offensively,” Cora said. “I know the numbers are not there but if you look at the at-bats, his stride is getting better. He was actually like flying open and stepping into the bucket. But little by little, he’s getting close. That’s a good sign.
“He’s in a good spot too…As far as soreness and all that, no red flags the last few days, which is good. We’ll just keep rolling.”