- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Xander Bogaerts knew there would be weeks like this.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox rookie shortstop, he’s experienced a few tough stretches this season and it’s eating away at his confidence.
“You guys have no clue,” he said after Boston’s 8-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday at Fenway Park. “Sometimes I hide it on the outside, but inside it’s just tough.”
The learning curve for a shortstop at the major league level is steep. It is one of the toughest positions to learn on the fly, especially for a 21-year-old. No one is questioning Bogaerts' ability, but he’s been struggling with the mental aspect of the game. Twice during this homestand he’s made defensive miscues that cost the Red Sox.
On Friday, Bogaerts’ lapse in field awareness hurt the club. With two outs and runners on first and second, he allowed a ground ball to play him and his lazy flip to second baseman Dustin Pedroia was too late. Had Bogaerts made the correct play and threw to first for the out, the inning would have been over, but Houston tied it at 3-3 and eventually won 5-3 in 10 innings.
On Sunday, what should have been an easy 6-3 double play to end the second inning and keep Houston’s lead to only two runs turned into a nightmare. Bogaerts fielded a ball and released it a half-step too soon before he touched the bag. The runner at second was originally called out, but after review the call was reversed and the runner was safe.
“I wish I could do that again,” Bogaerts said. “I saw the runner coming on me, and I tried to touch the bag and get it out as soon as possible and turn a double play. Joe Kelly was going through a rough stretch with his command, so if we get a double play right there for him would’ve been huge. It really would have turned the game around, but since I didn’t turn it, it turned around in their favor.”
It was a crucial mistake, because later in the inning, the Astros’ Jose Altuve hit a grand slam into the Monster Seats for a 6-0 lead.
“After Altuve came up to hit and got that grand slam, there’s no worse feeling than that,” Bogaerts said.
With all the ebbs and flows of this season for Bogaerts, while playing third base and shortstop, Red Sox manager John Farrell believes the rookie is making progress in his development into a full-time big-league shortstop.
“Without question,” Farrell said. “Despite the results, because you’re not going to get the experience at any other level. While he’s been challenged at times, he’s also been very good at times. Through these experiences, we feel, and are very confident, that he’ll be better off for them.”
After the game, Bogaerts stood at his locker and dropped a bunch of “Oh, mans” when answering questions about this homestand.
“Oh, man, a lot of lessons learned,” he said. “I think it’s time to stop messing up so much.”
The Red Sox are aware of Bogaerts’ confidence issues and are working to help him through them. Earlier this week, Bogaerts was seen speaking with Bob Tewksbury, MLBPA’s director of player development and former Red Sox sports psychologist.
If Bogaerts is struggling with the grind of his first full season in the big leagues, he’s doing everything possible to fix it.
“I’m going out there every day and I’m trying the best I can. It’s not like I’m not putting in the effort, or the work, or anything like that. Just got to keep going and keep going and know that you’re going to become a good player,” he said.
He’s been working countless hours with Red Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield. Bogaerts will take early infield practice with Butterfield at his side. The two will watch video and simulate defensive situations, so he’s prepared for everything.
“It’s hard,” Butterfield said. “He’s learning at the big-league level. He’s only 21 years old and hasn’t played a lot of baseball and he’s playing a critical position, where he’s in the center of everything. Things like [mental miscues] happen, not only with guys 21 years old, but with veteran guys, so he’s going to learn from his mistakes. He’s very intelligent. He’s very accountable. He obviously takes a heavy burden when things don’t go right and that’s a very noble way to be and that’s what you’re looking for. We’re going to keep working and he’s going to be fine.”
In a strange way, the Red Sox should be happy that Bogaerts has been tough on himself. It’s an indication that he cares and wants to fix his struggles in the field.
“He shoulders a heavy load during the course of a year and he wants to hold up his end of the bargain, and when he isn’t playing well, or if he doesn’t do something that helps us to win a game, or on the flip side, hurts us, he takes a great burden,” Butterfield said. “That’s all part of the process, too. It’s not just catching, hitting, throwing, but it’s the mental aspects of the game -- learning how to play, learning how to use your clock, learning how to compete against failure because it is a game of failure.”
Late last season, Bogaerts became an integral part of the Red Sox’s World Series championship. He came up with timely hitting and solid defense, and added a youthful spark on and off the field. It was similar to what Jacoby Ellsbury did for the club during its 2007 World Series run. But, this season, Bogaerts is dealing with the normal sophomore learning curve -- some days it’s good, other days it’s bad.
“I think I’ll definitely benefit from it. You can’t be going worse than I am right now,” he said. “Keep going at it, come in with a positive attitude. Every day I come in here and I feel great. Just results-wise, not going my way. Keep battling.”
Butterfield has no issues with those comments.
“It’s OK when he takes things hard, because he’s got an awful long career ahead of him,” Butterfield said. “We feel very confident in that guy.”
Bogaerts now has to regain the confidence in himself.