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Xander Bogaerts’ growing pains at shortstop proving costly: ‘Inside, it’s just tough’

08.17.14 at 9:08 pm ET
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Much was made after the Red Sox‘ 8-1 loss to the Astros Sunday over a single ruling at second base that proved to be a game-changer.

Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts

With two on and one out in the top of the second inning, Marwin Gonzalez hit a ground ball that was fielded by Xander Bogaerts at short for what appeared to be a routine double play.

Bogaerts ran to second, threw to first and jogged with the rest of the team into the dugout with the inning seemingly over.

But it wasn’t.

Astros manager Bo Porter challenged that the ball left Bogaerts’ hand before touching the bag, which the replay proved to be true, giving Houston life in the second. Two batters later Jose Altuve lifted his first-career grand slam to give the Astros a commanding 6-0 lead.

The result didn’t sit well with Red Sox manager John Farrell, who argued that teams are not allowed the review the front end of a double play at second base. The umpires told Farrell the play, which the skipper referred to as “the neighborhood play,” was a reviewable play after receiving confirmation from replay officials in New York prior to Houston’s challenge.

Farrell disagreed and was ejected for his response.

However, none of it would’ve mattered had Bogaerts made the play to begin with.

The rookie capped a troublesome weekend with his second fielding blunder in the last three days, amplifying questions about whether he has the instincts and feel for the game to be a major league shortstop.

On Friday, Bogaerts went to second base too late on a grounder his way instead of making an easy throw to first. His failure to record an out allowed the game-tying run to score in an eventual Red Sox loss.

Sunday’s gaffe proved even more costly. Bogaerts said he knew right away that he stepped on the bag after the throw, but hoped it was something the umpires couldn’t review. He said he was trying to make the play quickly in order to avoid Marc Krauss running into him at second to try to break up the play, which he affected the way he approached it.

“It’s kind of something I knew I messed up right there,” Bogaerts said.

The blow worsened for Bogaerts after the Astros added four more runs as a result.

“After Altuve got up and hit that grand slam, there’s no worse feeling than that,” he said.

When asked to describe what the last three days have been like for him, Bogaerts said, “You guys have no clue. Sometimes I hide it on the outside, but inside it’s just tough.”

Bogaerts’ misplay epitomized more than just a forgettable weekend for him. The play outlined what has been a frustrating rookie season for the 21-year-old. Bogaerts has committed a team-high 17 errors, although only seven of them have come at shortstop. While his defense was expected to be a work in progress this year, his offensive numbers (.228/.296/.342) have been well below expectations.

Offensive production aside, Bogaerts’ biggest challenge has been learning to become a major league shortstop. However, his coaches are confident in him and said they can see him progressing as an infielder.

“Some guys pick it up a little bit quicker than others, but the thing is he’s getting repetitions,” said third base coach Brian Butterfield, who coaches the infielders. “Repetitions are key. Every player in this clubhouse has learned through repetitions. Unfortunately, at times, Bogey is learning it at 21 at the major league level. That’s tough. He’s under the microscope, he’s playing a very important position and things like that happen. But he’ll be fine.”

Butterfield said Bogaerts’ struggles go beyond the physical aspects of the game. He said the two discuss mental elements such as body language and battling adversity on a regular basis. All he needs is more experience.

“We’re all very pleased as a coaching staff on how far he has come in a short period of time from spring training to this point,” Butterfield said. “He’s worked real hard at his shortstop play. He worked very hard at third base before we moved him back. There’s so much that goes into it. It’s not just the physical preparation but it’s also the mental stress that is involved during the course of the year. It’s a tough position, there’s a lot of failure involved.

“He’s playing a very demanding position. Most young shortstops early in their career, whether it’s in the minor leagues or the big leagues, struggle. He’s going through a lot of things but he’s also a very intelligent guy, he’s got tough skin. He shows that he cares, he shows that he’s very accountable and shoulders the burden when things go wrong. He’ll get better for it.”

Farrell echoed those sentiments, saying Bogaerts is “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 I’m very confident he’ll be better off for them.”

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