Boston hitting coach Hyers on slumping stars

August 9th, 2020

BOSTON -- Nobody has spent more time figuring out ways to fix the early-season slumps of cornerstone players Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Jackie Bradley Jr. than Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers.

There are individual issues and reasons that have prevented all four players from living up to their track records so far, and Hyers provided some analysis in a Sunday Zoom call with reporters.

What is going on with Benintendi, who was demoted from leadoff to the seventh spot in the batting order on Saturday and was pinch-hit for by Kevin Pillar in the fourth inning of that 2-1 loss?

“I think some of his bad habits have crept back into his swing,” said Hyers. “You remember in [Summer Camp] when we came back, he was killing the ball. He was on base all the time. He was using the wall. He was using the whole field. I think right now he’s losing his barrel and you see he fouls off a lot of pitches in the zone that he wishes he could end the at-bat instead of falling behind.

“I know he’s working hard. I think the biggest issue is his swing plane and his posture. We’ve seen him get to one knee and kind of lose his lower half more than probably in the past, so one positive is he’s seeing the baseball pretty good, walks are up. ... And now when he falls behind you’ve got to battle some pretty good pitchers with some stuff with two strikes. It’s not easy.”

What is going on with Devers, who had the best offensive season of any Red Sox third baseman not named Wade Boggs last season?

“Pitches he’s swinging at,” said Hyers. “You could tell when he kind of got off to a bad start, some things didn’t go his way, it looked like he started swinging harder and expanding the zone. As a hitter, you go out there and try to get hits, and that’s the wrong approach.

“I think it’s a process. You try to get a good pitch to hit, you try to stick to your game plan, and that process will eventually create hits. As I said, earlier, trying to get off to a good start, you’re looking result oriented before you’re looking at process oriented.

“You get ahead of yourself and [are] trying to produce for the fans, for the team, and it starts to grow on these guys. So I think pitch selection is No. 1 for Devers, and No. 2 is effort level. He’s just really swinging hard instead of letting his good hands work, because we know he’s one of the best hitters in the game whenever he gets the ball in the zone and relies on his hands.”

What is going on with Martinez, who hit more homers than anyone in the Majors over the last three seasons, but hasn’t gone deep yet this year and took a .212 average into Sunday's game? Is the slugger that thrown off by MLB’s rule this season that players can’t review in-game video?

“I think just adapting to a new routine,” Hyers said. “I think he’s putting some pressure on himself to carry this team. He knows that he’s a big part of it. We got off to kind of a rough start, I know he put a lot of pressure on himself trying to produce, and when that happens you expand the zone like Raffy. But I have faith in both of them. They get the ball back in the zone, they have a track record, and they just need to get back in the swing of things and get some hits, because we all know hitting is contagious.”

What about the notoriously streaky Bradley, who swung a hot bat in Spring Training and Summer Camp and took it into the first two games of the season before going ice cold?

“I’m glad you asked that. He was just hitting the ball opposite field. If you remember that first series, he was just killing them opposite field with the shifts, and I think they’ve made an adjustment on him,” said Hyers. “As you can see, how they’ve attacked him, they’ve thrown a lot of cutters in on him. They’ve pitched him in hard, which is probably not his strength. So he took advantage of early pitches out over the plate, big shifts, and he’s got to find a way to make that counter adjustment to the league, and that’s something we’re working on.”

Though their resources are limited compared to a non-pandemic work environment, Hyers and assistant hitting coach Pete Fatse will continue to do all they can do to get these four key players going again.

“Yes, kind of a struggle with the limited time at the park, trying to get quality time,” Hyers said. “The adjustments to that, because we had to adjust everybody’s routines, we have a lot of hard workers, we have a lot of guys that spend a lot of time at the field and are very detailed with their work. We’ve had to put that together and yes, to that question, it’s been difficult to create new routines and habits to fulfill each need.”