Benchwarmer: Moreland stays hot in pinch

After sitting for 6 innings, slugger extends great August with go-ahead HR, 2-run single

August 31st, 2017

TORONTO -- Mitch Moreland is closing August as one of the hottest hitters on the Red Sox, and even six innings on the bench couldn't stop his momentum on Wednesday night.

When manager John Farrell called on Moreland to pinch-hit in the seventh, the left-handed hitter was clearly ready, turning on a 2-1 fastball by righty Tom Koehler and hammering a go-ahead two-run moonshot to right to spark the Sox to a 7-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

An inning later, Moreland placed a soft single -- Statcast™ had it at 60 mph -- into left for a two-run single.

"Mitch, to think he comes off the bench in the seventh inning and ends up with four RBIs, that's a big night for him in a reserve role," said Farrell.

It wasn't all that surprising either for two reasons.

The first is that, well, Moreland is on fire. The second is that he rakes as a pinch-hitter.

Since Aug. 12, the first baseman is on a 19-for-48 tear that includes four homers and 13 RBIs. Moreland started August hitting .238 and is now at .257.

"I just try to go up there and have a good at-bat and put the barrel on it. Obviously I hit that second one pretty hard, too," quipped Moreland. "It's just one of those things where you try to go up there and put a good at-bat together. It's going well right now."

Moreland leads the Majors with a .474 average (18-for-38) as a pinch-hitter (minimum of 40 plate appearances) since the start of the 2014 season. In his career, he is a .324 pinch-hitter (23-for-71) with three homers and 17 RBIs. That type of track record off the bench could play big dividends for the Red Sox in September and October when they face a lefty starter.

While a pinch-hitting situation can feel pressurized for some, Moreland feels more relaxed.

"It's one of the tougher things to do, I think, so you don't really go up there putting pressure on yourself because I don't know how much is expected of you in those certain situations," Moreland said. "That's one way to look at it. I just try to go up there and be ready to go from the first pitch when I get my opportunity."

The homer, which snapped a 1-1 tie, was the second go-ahead pinch-hit for Moreland in the last two weeks, as his two-run single helped beat the Yankees at Fenway on Aug. 18.

Moreland, who signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Red Sox in December, has provided good value. He started the season in a similar hot streak to the one he's on now, then went ice cold when he played hurt in June and July.

Clearly, Moreland is in a good place coming down the stretch.

"I think it coincides with Hanley [Ramirez] getting [healthy enough] to play first base," said Farrell. "Not as a direct result, but Mitch has been able to get a breather every now and then to freshen up somewhat. He's had a grinding year with a broken toe, and getting the highest number of at-bats in his career. So to get a little breather and stay fresh, he's been in a good place for the entire month."