August 13, 2022

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Red Sox looking to turn power back on

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TORONTO — When Rafael Devers hit one high and deep and just fair down the line in right for a two-run home run in the third inning of the opener of this 10-game road trip for the Red Sox last Friday, nobody knew at the time that it was a moment that should have been savored.

After all, how could anyone have known that a team typically associated with power was about to go on an outage not seen in 21 years?

In a 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre, the Red Sox suffered their fifth loss in the last six games. It also marked the sixth consecutive game the Red Sox didn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark. The last time that happened, Jimy Williams was managing the Red Sox and Manny Ramírez was anchoring the lineup. That six-game stretch was from April 11-16, 2001.

The next night, Ramírez clocked two homers while Brian Daubach and Carl Everett also went deep in a 10-0 rout at Tropicana Field.

That was a long time ago. But the Red Sox can only hope that history repeats itself on Friday night at Camden Yards, the final stop of what has so far been a difficult road trip.

“Those kind of things happen,” said Devers, Boston’s best power hitter. “We know we’re good hitters. From top to bottom, we are really good hitters. So those things are going to happen from time to time but we’re ready to bounce back.”

Through 20 games, the 8-12 Sox have just 11 homers. That puts them on pace to hit 89 over a 162-game season. Only the Orioles and Tigers have hit fewer big flies in all of MLB than the Sox.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that the Red Sox, who hit 219 homers last season, will wind up well into the 100s in homers at least.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow now. The Sox, who got off to a fast start last season, are already 5 1/2 games back in the ultra-competitive American League East.

A hot week or two can fix that. And so can an overdue barrage of home runs. So why is a team with several power hitters not hitting for power?

“I don’t know, honestly,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We will hit homers. That’s going to be part of it. We’re doing a better job swinging at pitches in the zone. We’re not chasing as much. With that, the home runs will come.”

It is fair to say the Red Sox took some good swings on Thursday and didn’t have much to show for it. Nobody was more frustrated than Christian Arroyo.

With one out and a runner on third base in the seventh, he hit a line drive to exactly where shortstop Bo Bichette was playing. According to Statcast, the liner had an expected batting average of .420.

In the ninth, Alex Verdugo hit a 108.5-mph groundout. Later in the frame, Kiké Hernández hit a 105.1-mph screamer to left-center that had an expected batting average of .560 and likely would have scored Devers with the tying run if it had found the gap. Instead, left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. corralled it for an out.

The beauty of home runs is that they can’t be caught. And that’s why the return of the long ball will likely be the quickest fix to what currently ails the Boston bats.

“Of course, it’s going to be a big help [to hit homers] but it’s not going to be what defines us as a team, the long ball,” said Devers. “I think we’re going to keep putting our work in.”

Devers and Verdugo are the current team leaders in homers at three apiece. Though Bogaerts (.392 average) is off to a scorching start, he’s gone deep just once so far. It hasn’t helped that J.D. Martinez has played in just six of the team’s last eight games due to a left adductor strain. The star DH has one homer in his first 54 at-bats after starting last season on a power tear.

Hernández belted 20 homers last season while hitting mostly leadoff. He has one so far this year while moving around the lineup.

The Red Sox added an impact power hitter in Trevor Story, though he’s gone homerless in his first 58 at-bats with his new team.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily thinking about home runs,” said right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. “Obviously we’ve hit some balls well and they haven’t gone out. I’m not going to sit here and complain about it.”

But when the ball does start flying over the wall again for the Red Sox, their fortunes should start to change significantly.

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