Padres’ Xander Bogaerts fighting to break out of slump: ‘I’m really close’


SAN DIEGO — After batting leadoff for the 21st time in 21 starts this season, after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, and after seeing his OPS drop to .511, Xander Bogaerts practically waved off questions about a pair of topics that have gained attention amid a dismal beginning to his season.

His struggles, the San Diego Padres second baseman said, had nothing to do with where he was batting in the lineup. They also were unconnected, the five-time Silver Slugger added, to the left wrist that has occasionally bothered him the past several years, including for much of his debut season in San Diego.

“Let’s not look for no wrist issues. Let’s not look for no leadoff spot,” Bogaerts said after Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. “The hits haven’t been falling, and it sucks when you normally get a lot of hits and now you don’t. It’s a little tough. But yeah, I don’t look for no other reasons. Naw. It’s just me not performing.

“I like hitting first. I mean, what do you want me to do? It’s tough to see me hitting first right now. I’m not even gonna lie. I come to the ballpark, and I ain’t doing my job. So, it sucks. I can tell you it sucks for me more than anyone else. The amount that I care for this game and the amount that I care to succeed, it really sucks. And it’s tough to see me go through it, but I’ll keep my chin up and I’ll keep going.”

In their return to Petco Park after a successful road trip, the Padres (11-11) fell back to .500 because of a familiar reason. They are 10-1 when they score four or more runs. They are 1-10 when they score three or fewer runs. And they have yet to achieve much consistency on offense in no small part because their $280 million leadoff man has yet to produce.

Friday, Bogaerts looked better than he had of late. He struck out swinging on three pitches, struck out looking at a borderline call to end a nine-pitch at-bat and was rung up on another close pitch to end a seven-pitch at-bat. He also hammered a first-inning fly ball that left his bat at 104.7 mph and, according to Statcast, would have left the yard in 13 other ballparks.

Blue Jays left fielder Daulton Varsho made an acrobatic catch at the wall to rob Bogaerts of what would have been his first extra-base hit in seven games.

“I guess I ain’t been living right,” Bogaerts said.

Bogaerts does not have to guess about another thing. He knows he has not been swinging right. “It’s bad,” he said. Nor has he been hitting the ball to right-center or right field, something he regularly does at his best. Bogaerts entered Friday having pulled a career-high 43.3 percent of his batted balls. He’d gone to the opposite field a career-low 7.5 percent of the time.

Bogaerts believes he has diagnosed the problem, although he still has not bottled a solution.

“That’s really unusual, unlike me,” he said before Friday’s game of his recent pull tendency. “It ain’t being pull-happy. It’s just rhythm, not (being) in sync.

“I’m aware that I’m hitting a lot of balls over there (left field). And I’m trying to hit it over there (right field), but I still can’t do it. So, that’s the frustration. That’s the real frustration. Like, you want to do something and you feel like you’re not in a position to be able to do it, or your body doesn’t allow you to do it just by the way I’m putting myself in position as I’m going to take a swing. That causes the mistakes that I keep doing. It’s really, really hard for me to go the other way.

“I just can’t do it at the moment. That’s frustrating because now you only have, like, the middle and the (pull) side of the field.”

Like every other hitter, Bogaerts has endured slumps before. This latest one, however, is magnified because it has come at the beginning of a season — not to mention the second season of an 11-year deal that currently looks like a significant overpay. Bogaerts is owed $25 annually through 2033, when he will be 41.

The Padres can take comfort in Bogaerts’ obsession with his craft, as well as his track record as one of the game’s more reliable hitters. Last season, he bookended a long dry spell with a strong start and a strong finish. He finished the year with a .790 OPS and ranked 23rd among major-league position players with 4.7 FanGraphs wins above replacement.

In February, just after Bogaerts reported for his second spring training in Arizona, general manager A.J. Preller and manager Mike Shildt asked him to move from shortstop to second base, a position he had never played. Bogaerts agreed and praised double-play partner Ha-Seong Kim, demonstrating professionalism while struggling to hide some disappointment. But the move has put even more pressure on a 31-year-old to hit. It has highlighted concerning early-season metrics. Bogaerts began this weekend’s series against Toronto among the bottom six percent of the majors in both average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage.

“It’s really hard to have hard contact with what I’m doing at the plate right now,” explained Bogaerts, who said his wrist is feeling “good.” “The end result is a lot of weak balls and a lot of balls not to the other way. So, I know exactly what it is. What I’m doing at the plate right now is nothing that I have planned on doing, but I can see why it’s like that because of the way that my hips are flying open, my barrel’s dropping. It’s hard for you to do stuff that you want to do when you’re doing those two mistakes.”

Bogaerts, a frequent visitor to the batting cage, said he had been performing drills to “eliminate bad movements” in his swing. Friday afternoon, he deemed his pregame work some of his best of the season. “I’m really close,” he said. Meanwhile, Shildt expressed confidence that Bogaerts would find his way out of his slump, citing an award-laden career. The manager reiterated his reasons for keeping Bogaerts in the leadoff spot, at least for the moment.

“Historically, he’s been able to get on base,” Shildt said. “He’s able to see pitches. He’s a good base runner. … He’s smart. He’s got an approach of what he’s trying to accomplish. And I think the other (hitters), as much as I like where he’s at, I also really like where the other guys are. So, it’s not in a silo.”

Friday evening, though, it might have felt like it was. Fernando Tatis Jr., batting in his usual spot in the No. 2 hole, hit a solo homer. The Padres otherwise came up with minimal offense. And, despite one instance of resounding contact, another hitless performance for Bogaerts was magnified.

He has navigated through plenty of slumps, but the start to his second season in San Diego has brought something of a new challenge.

“This one is a weird one,” Bogaerts said. “I haven’t had much of these. I see myself pull sliders down and way, like, line drives to left field. I see myself pull curveballs down and away to left field, and I’m like, ‘Something’s weird.’ So, it’s probably one that I haven’t dealt with, and I don’t even know if I probably have dealt with this one. So that’s why it’s probably taking this long.”

(Top photo of Xander Bogaerts: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top