Red Sox manager Alex Cora saw an old friend outside the clubhouse in Kansas City on Friday, and he was ready with a playful dig.
“I said, ‘Wow, now you bunt in 3-1 counts with the shift (on)?’” Cora said, recalling an exchange with Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi. “And he’s like, ‘I’m smarter now.’”
Boston made Benintendi its first-round selection (seventh overall) in 2015, and he played parts of five seasons for the club. A few weeks shy of his 27th birthday, Benintendi is still growing in the Majors, which Cora has to witness from a distance now that Benintendi plays elsewhere.
“I’m very proud of him, very happy for him that he kind of settled down here,” Cora said of Benintendi, who has a 109 OPS+ in 60 games with the Royals. “And hopefully he can continue the things that he’s been doing.”
The Red Sox sent Benintendi to the Royals in February in a three-team trade that brought back outfielder Franchy Cordero, right-hander Josh Winckowski and three prospects. The trade was geared toward adjustments for the present and the future, and no doubt Benintendi’s recent dip in production contributed to the decision.
After finishing as the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 2017, Benintendi had his best offensive season (123 OPS+) for the 2018 World Series champions. He filled in admirably as the leadoff hitter during times when Mookie Betts was hurt, and he made highlight plays in left field on a regular basis.
Through 152 games in the two years that followed, though, Benintendi was essentially a league-average hitter (95 OPS+). And in 2019, when he played 138 games, he finished in the third percentile for Outs Above Average.
A resurgence is underway with the Royals, though the Red Sox won’t see that firsthand this weekend: Benintendi is on the injured list with a rib injury, which has kept him out since Monday. For Cora, seeing Benintendi on Friday brought back fond memories of their days in the same dugout.
“You guys know the Andrew from before the game and after the game,” Cora said. “At 7:05, that kid, he wanted to kick your butt. It didn’t matter who was on the mound. Very fiery, very intense. As you guys know, he was one of my favorites. I loved the way he went about his business … He was one of the reasons we were so good in ’18.”
One reporter suggested that Benintendi’s reserved demeanor might make Kansas City a particularly good fit. To that, Cora responded, “Boston was a good place for him, too.”
Ríos on being with Boston: ‘A dream come true’
Yacksel Ríos is only three days into his Red Sox tenure, but already he feels there’s something special with this team.
“It’s like a dream come true in Boston,” he said. “Competitive team, so many championships, you know?”
Boston acquired Ríos from the Mariners for cash on Monday, and he made his Red Sox debut two days later, retiring the only batter he faced. He signed with the Rays back in February but was sent to the Mariners earlier this month before appearing in the Majors in 2021.
Though his specific role in Boston’s bullpen hasn’t been spelled out, Ríos is sure he’s ready for anything.
“I’m a pitcher. I’ll be available for any situation,” he said. “That’s why I train, that’s why I’m in the bullpen.”