Silverman: Mitch Moreland filling David Ortiz void in Red Sox lineup so far
TORONTO — It’s possible that Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts or Hanley Ramirez or Dustin Pedroia is going to go on an extended, hot-as-blazes run one of these days.
But as of now, two weeks into the season, none of the above rivals Mitch Moreland as the most dangerous and productive hitter in the Red Sox lineup.
In other words, he’s your mid-April front-runner for helping New England forget about David Ortiz.
Yes, we’re talking Mitch Moreland, the 31-year-old first baseman who was picked up for a mere $5.5 million last December, when he was heralded for his defense and flashes of power.
He’s been better than advertised.
On Saturday, he hit his first home run (plus a single and a double).
On Monday, he delivered the key two-run single in a victory over the Rays.
And last night, he had three more hits and knocked in three runs in the Red Sox’ 8-7 victory over the Blue Jays.
Leading the team in batting average (.358), on-base percentage (.443), slugging percentage (.604) and hits (19), Moreland is also ahead, by a wide margin, of all other hitters in baseball with 10 doubles (he hit his 10th last night).
Again, we’re two weeks into the season.
But the 9-5 Red Sox are on a four-game winning streak, and they’ve climbed onto Moreland’s back more than anyone else’s in that run.
It’s not the script anybody predicted, but right now, the Red Sox’ reality show stars Moreland.
“It’s been fun so far,” he said. “It’s still early though, just trying to go up there and keep it simple and have fun. Games like this are kind of back and forth, they’re always fun. I’m glad we came out on top.”
Moreland’s not the type to put a lot of thought into the process when he goes up to the plate, or at least when he talks about it afterward.
“I think always, when you start thinking about it, it’s never a good thing, I don’t think, so just try to ride it out, keep my head down, keep doing my work and try to prepare every day the same and focus on that,” Moreland said.
No doubt he studies opposing pitchers as much as he works on his own swing, but however he’s doing it, it’s working.
For an example, note that when Moreland came up in the third and fourth innings with runners in scoring position and Marcus Stroman on the mound, he stayed with the pitches and drove them to left field.
It’s that sweet and easy opposite-field swing — and not the violent hacks he is capable of when chasing (he leads the team in strikeouts, too, with 14) — that is responsible for Moreland producing in big situations lately.
“In the RBI situations, he’s using the whole field, that’s the best I can say it,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “He’s got good plate coverage. He’s not making himself susceptible to one area of the strike zone or on one particular pitch. He might be giving up a little bit of power for the all-field approach. It’s been working for him.”
Moreland’s got a good sense of self-deprecating humor when it comes to that hit or miss swing of his. Always a high-strikeout type of hitter, he was reminded that last night as Mookie Betts extended his streak of plate appearances without a strikeout to 128 as well as hitting his first home run of the season.
“That streak is unheard of. I told him mine’s probably about six or so,” Moreland said.
Moreland’s hit in strong lineups before with Texas, the only other team he has played for, but he is thriving in this one.
With Betts starting to heat up, and others probably getting closer as well, Moreland’s early production likely bodes well for further down the road when his bat cools off. He has this stretch to fall back upon, plus the knowledge that he has plenty of support around him.
Ortiz is not walking through that door again, but at least Moreland’s doing a pretty good imitation of coming with the big hit at the right moment.
“He’s just having great at-bats,” Betts said. “Timely hitting. He’s playing great at first. We can’t ask for anything more than what he’s doing.”