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Xander Bogaerts shows signs of life at the plate with clutch performance against Kansas City

07.19.14 at 1:51 am ET
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Xander Bogaerts got on-base a total of three times Friday night, spurring the Sox to a 5-4 victory. (AP)

Xander Bogaerts got on base a total of three times Friday night, spurring the Sox to a 5-4 victory. (AP)

There seemed to be only one emotion conveyed on Xander Bogaerts‘€™ face as he rounded the bases following his fourth-inning home run Friday night:

Relief.

After trudging through a miserable 14-for-121 slump that sapped his average from  .304 on June 3 down to .235 on July 13, Bogaerts finally broke through his six-week downturn in a major way, blasting a timely two-run home run and reaching base a total of three times en route to a 5-4 Red Sox victory over the Royals.

It seemed as if the Red Sox were on their way to another disappointing defeat Friday night, trailing Kansas City by a score of 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning before Bogaerts stepped to the plate.

With Daniel Nava leading off first base, Bogaerts turned on a 85 mph cutter from Royals starter James Shields, depositing the 1-1 offering into the center field bleachers for his seventh home run of the season, cutting the deficit to just one run.

It was Bogaerts’€™ first home run since June 13 against the Indians, snapping a career-high 89 at-bat homerless spell. That same home run against Cleveland also marked the last time that Bogaerts had gotten an extra-base hit before Friday’s contest.

“€œThat was pretty good, the inside of the ball,”€ Bogaerts said after the game. “€œI was trying to hit something the opposite way, my bat just rolled over a lot of stuff and that’€™s a bad feeling. But I’€™ll take that every day.”

Bogaerts, whose round-tripper helped pull Boston right back into the game , was the first of two home runs in the inning, as Jonny Gomes lofted a sinker from Royals southpaw Scott Downs into the same area of the bleachers for a two-run, pinch-hit home run that would give the Red Sox a 5-4 lead that they would not relinquish.

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Closing time: Jonny Gomes, Xander Bogaerts power Red Sox to comeback victory over Royals

07.18.14 at 10:42 pm ET
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Jonny Gomes' two-run, pinch-hit home run was the difference Friday night. (AP)

Jonny Gomes’ two-run, pinch-hit home run was the difference Friday night. (AP)

A couple of weeks ago, a three-run deficit in the sixth inning seemed almost insurmountable for the Red Sox.

On Friday night, it was anything but.

Jonny Gomes and Xander Bogaerts supplied the power in the Red Sox‘ 5-4, come-from-behind win against the Royals to kick off the unofficial second half of the season. It was a great start for a team in an interesting position. Every game counts now, as the Red Sox need to start stringing together wins if they hope to make a run at the postseason.

Gomes, who has come through in many clutch situations for the Red Sox over the past couple of years, did it again on Friday, pinch-hitting for Jackie Bradley Jr. in the sixth inning and launching a go-ahead two-run home run with two outs in the inning. Though he’s been with the Red Sox for less than two years, Gomes moved into sole position of second place on the Red Sox all-time pinch-hit home run list with six since coming to Boston. Only Ted Williams has more pinch-hit home runs in a Red Sox uniform.

It was Bogaerts’ home run that pulled the Red Sox a little closer earlier in the inning, a solo shot to dead center. The blast was a much-needed one for the 21-year-old, who had not had an extra-base hit since June 14, going 94 plate appearances in between home runs and extra-base hits. He was batting just .115/.141/.115 since then.

Clay Buchholz struggled in his first start of the second half, allowing four runs on 10 hits. Though he was hit hard at times, Buchholz managed to limit the damage and escape a couple of jams. He lasted six innings, striking out three and, for the fourth time in five starts since coming off the disabled list, didn’t walk a single batter.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX:

Brock Holt drove in the Red Sox’ first run of the evening with a single, part of his 1-for-4 evening. Holt is 16-for-47 with runners in scoring position and 9-for-25 with RISP and two out this season.

– Stephen Drew had a couple of hits on the evening, including a ground-rule double that bounced into the Red Sox bullpen. Though the hits have not been coming frequently for Drew, four of his last seven hits have gone for extra bases, and he’s slugging .533 since he homered in back-to-back games of a doubleheader on July 5.

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Red Sox pregame notes: Shane Victorino could be activated tomorrow; Will Middlebrooks nears return; Sox remain hopeful for second-half run

07.18.14 at 7:08 pm ET
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Shane Victorino could be activated for Saturday's game against Kansas City. (AP)

Shane Victorino could be activated for Saturday’s game against Kansas City. (AP)

While the Red Sox only managed to post a 9-12 record in the 21 games that he played this season in the majors, there’€™s no denying that Shane Victorino brings a certain amount of panache to the table that the Red Sox have sufficiently lacked this year.

Whether it be his proficiency in patrolling right field (25.0 UZR in 2013, first amongst all right fields in AL ), talent at the plate (.294/.351/.451 line last season) or skills on the basepaths (23-for-26 in stolen base attempts with Boston), Victorino has certainly left a void on the roster during the 74 games that he’€™s missed this season with hamstring and back issues.

“€œWe’€™ve missed his energy, we’€™ve missed his talents, his in-game decision, his instincts on the basepaths, we’€™ve missed a very good player for a majority of the year,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell before Friday’€™s game against the Royals.

However, it appears that the 33-year-old outfielder will not be sidelined for much longer, as Farrell stated that there’€™s a definite scenario that he could be activated before Saturday’€™s game. Victorino played all nine innings of Triple-A Pawtucket’€™s game against Buffalo Thursday, going 2-for-4 while showing no hesitancy to test his hamstring both out on the field and on the basepaths.

“He came out of last night in good shape physically, he ran the bases aggressively, went first to third a couple of different times, slid headfirst, a couple of base hits, made three plays in right field, so last night was a very good night for him and we anticipate him getting through tonight in a similar fashion physically and there’€™s a scenario which has him active for us tomorrow,” Farrell said.

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Red Sox lineup: David Ross catching Clay Buchholz to open second half

07.18.14 at 3:26 pm ET
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David Ross will be behind the plate to catch Clay Buchholz in the opener of the second half. Stephen Drew — a career 5-for-8 against Royals starter James Shields — will start at shortstop, with Xander Bogaerts at third, Brock Holt in right field, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Daniel Nava in left. Mookie Betts will sit.

For a complete batter vs. pitcher breakdown, click here.

RED SOX LINEUP

Brock Holt RF

Dustin Pedroia 2B

David Ortiz DH

Mike Napoli 1B

Daniel Nava LF

Xander Bogaerts 3B

Stephen Drew SS

David Ross C

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Clay Buchholz SP

Red Sox minor league roundup: Shane Victorino’s step forward; Alex Hassan scorching

07.18.14 at 3:20 pm ET
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Shane Victorino played nine innings for the first time since going on the DL in May. (AP)

Shane Victorino played nine innings for the first time since going on the DL in May. (AP)

A (very) brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Thursday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-2 WIN VS. BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX)

– Right fielder Shane Victorino played a full nine innings for the first time in this rehab assignment while also collecting his first hits, going 2-for-4 and scoring a pair of runs. The Sox want to see Victorino play nine innings in back-to-back games before activating him, and so Friday’s contest will represent a key marker in his rehab.

– Left-hander Drake Britton had one of his best outings in months, earning the save with a perfect ninth inning that included a pair of strikeouts. After a stretch of five straight outings without a strikeout, Britton now has four strikeouts in his last two outings spanning three innings.

– Left fielder Alex Hassan went 2-for-3 with a homer and a walk, Since returning to Pawtucket from the big leagues, he’s looked like a big leaguer playing against Triple-A competition, leading the International League in average (.375) and OBP (.457) while slugging .643 with four homers and 21 extra-base hits in 30 games. For the year, he’s now hitting .284/.377/.447. Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox-Royals series preview

07.18.14 at 12:59 pm ET
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The Red Sox have reason to feel positive going into the unofficial second half of the season. The Sox won five of their last six games before the All-Star break and took three out of four against the lowly Astros last weekend. The success was capped off by an 11-0 win on Sunday highlighted by a complete-game shutout by Clay Buchholz. The run moved the Red Sox into a tie for last place with the Rays in the American League East standings at 43-52.

The Royals lost some ground in the in the AL Central race after dropping three out of four to the division-leading Tigers before the break last weekend. At 48-46, Kansas City is 6 1/2 games behind Detroit and 2 1/2 back in the wild card race. When they’re at their best, the Royals are led by younger hitters in Salvador Perez, who leads the team with 11 home runs, and shortstop Alcides Escobar, who’s batting .283 for the year.

Kansas City is led on the mound by right-hander James Shields, who’s starting Friday night. Shields (9-5, 3.65 ERA) has battled some inconsistencies as of late but was back to form in his last two starts, allowing two runs and 10 hits in his last 14 innings.

The Sox and Royals haven’t met this season. Kansas City won five out of seven meetings against the Red Sox in 2013.

Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set.

Friday: Buchholz (4-5, 5.42 ERA) vs. Shields (9-5, 3.65 ERA)
Saturday: Rubby De La Rosa (2-2, 2.89 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (5-9, 2.76)
Sunday: Jon Lester (9-7, 2.65 ERA) vs. Yordano Ventura (7-7, 3.22 ERA)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

– Buchholz continued his surprise turnaround last Sunday with a dominant performance against the Astros entering the All-Star break. The righty allowed just three hits and struck out 12 over nine shutout innings in an 11-0 Sox win. Buchholz is 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list last month. He has 23 strikeouts to just one walk and has shrunk his ERA from 7.02 to 5.42 in those starts.

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Red Sox think Xander Bogaerts’ ‘natural ability’ will again show itself after tweak in his mechanics

07.18.14 at 12:00 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts is looking to find the picture-perfect form that made him Boston's top prospect. (AP)

Xander Bogaerts is looking to find the picture-perfect form that made him Boston’s top prospect. (AP)

John Farrell made a name for himself as one of the best pitching coaches in the game when when landed on Terry Francona‘s staff in 2007.

But being one of the most astute pitching coaches has some fringe benefits. One of them is being able to break down a batter’s approach from a pitcher’s point of view. That’s exactly what he’s done in watching hours of video and observing Xander Bogaerts battle with his horrific slump in June and July.

Farrell gave a fascinating breakdown of what the Red Sox think might be an issue with Bogaerts’ approach at the plate, beginning with his pre-pitch address in the batter’s box.

“The one thing we’ve been focusing on is for him to get a little bit earlier and have a more gradual load [in his swing] or get to his loaded position,” Farrell said. “When he’s late, then it becomes rushed and hard to the front side and that’s where some spin on some pitches becomes hard to read. It’s a matter of slowing the game down and getting his load a little bit in the pitcher’s windup.

“That’s where his natural swing is built. And we feel like if we get him back to a timing within his swing, timing within getting ready, that natural ability to use the whole field will come back into play. That’s been elusive for him right now on a consistent basis.”

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