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After a rough night, Bogaerts sits

5/7/2014

BOSTON -- A day after going hitless in five at-bats and striking out three times, rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts was on the Sox bench for the start of Wednesday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds. Jonathan Herrera was at shortstop, batting ninth, against Reds right-hander Mike Leake.

Bogaerts had a 10-game hitting streak (April 16-27), the longest by any Sox player to date, but in seven games since then he is batting .200 (5 for 25) with one extra-base hit, 11 strikeouts and 5 walks. He has had two 3-K games in his last five starts, the first coming in last Thursday's doubleheader against the Rays.

Sox manager John Farrell wouldn't call Bogaerts' absence from the lineup a benching, noting that Herrera hasn't started in eight games. His only appearance in that time was Sunday against Oakland, when he pinch-ran for Mike Carp and was thrown out attempting to steal.

"A day off and a chance to get another left-handed bat in the lineup," Farrell called it. "Leake has been very tough on right-handers, and some other alignments in the lineup kind of reflect that as well."

Leake, who has pitched into the seventh inning in all six of his starts this season, has a much better slash line against right-handed hitters (.210/.238/.300/.538) than against left-handed hitters (.271/.338/.525/.864). Only three Sox hitters have faced him previously: A.J. Pierzynski (0 for 3), Grady Sizemore (1 for 3) and Shane Victorino (4 for 10).

With Bogaerts out of the lineup, Farrell moved Pierzynski up one spot to the No. 6 hole, moved Jackie Bradley Jr. into the 7 hole and dropped Herrera into the ninth spot that had been occupied by Bradley.

The last four hitters in the Sox order (Bogaerts, Pierzynski, Will Middlebrooks and Bradley) were a collective 1 for 19 with 8 strikeouts in Tuesday night's 4-3, 12-inning win against the Reds, with Bradley collecting the only hit, a single.

Farrell also balked at calling it a "mental breather" for Bogaerts.

"I wouldn't say a mental breather," the manager said. "He expanded the strike zone, I thought, on one at-bat when we had the bases loaded. They were giving him a heavy dose of breaking balls. I think it's more just situational with the opposition, the opposing pitcher in Leake tonight and really getting Herrera back in a game where it's been eight days since he's been in there."

Farrell on Wednesday explained his decision the night before not to have Bogaerts bunting in the eighth inning of a tie game after a leadoff single by Grady Sizemore, which was counter to the strategy he has employed in recent games.

"In the eighth inning you get the leadoff guy on, right-on-right situation, much like it was with Jackie the other day. Do you take the bat out of their hand and look to sacrifice, which maybe that's what the game might call for, just a traditional approach to it, or is there some benefit long-term to letting them swing the bat and grow in an opportunity? I selected the latter of those two."

Bogaerts took a called third strike from Reds reliever J.J. Hoover in the eighth. Reliever Manny Parra then entered and struck out Pierzynski and retired Middlebrooks on a force play.

Interestingly, during batting practice Wednesday, Bogaerts spent extra time bunting.

Overall, Bogaerts has gotten off to a pretty good start at the plate for the Sox; his .379 on-base percentage ranks second on the club to Mike Napoli's .415. His power stroke has yet to surface with the regularity the Sox are confident will appear as the season progresses; he has 7 doubles and 1 home run in 112 at-bats.

"I think there have been a lot of opportunities that he's growing from," Farrell said. "They might not have all ended in a positive result."

The same, he said, is true of Bradley.

"But we're hopeful and we're expecting that because of these challenges or experiences they're going to pay off dividends as we go deeper in the season," Farrell said.

The Sox were 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, and the team is batting a collective .219 in those situations. Bogaerts, in particular, has struggled, batting .125 (4 for 32) with RISP.

"There may be a tendency to expand the strike zone at times with him," Farrell said. "I think there's more expansion of the strike zone, particularly up with the fastball and off the plate away with the breaking ball where we've seen a selective, patient approach with nobody on base. There might be more of a tendency to swing the bat in those situations."