TORONTO — Andrew Benintendi is not feeling real “hitter-ish” these days. Make that the first half of the season. Actually, start from the second half of last season.
Benintendi, who turns 25 on Saturday, finds himself stuck in an offensive plateau in his third full season in the major leagues. After a sizzling start to his 2018 season in which he hit .297 with a .517 slugging percentage, .897 OPS and 14 home runs, Benintendi fell off the pace after last year’s All-Star break, hitting only .279, slugging .343 with a .727 OPS and just two homers.
The first half of this season Benintendi is hitting .266, slugging .421 with a .768 OPS, and seven homers. He has zero hits in his last 12 at-bats.
That next stage everybody expects gifted young hitters like Benintendi to take has yet to be taken.
And that was one reason why manager Alex Cora left Benintendi on the bench Thursday night.
“Not really an off day, he got here early and worked with (hitting coach) Timmy (Hyers) on a few things — we need him to feel ‘hitter-ish’ again,” said Cora. “I think his swing is not where he wants it to be. I don’t want to say he’s frustrated but kind of like one of those unplugging today. Show up early, work with Timmy and hopefully we can see the results right away. One of those that the numbers, they’re close but it doesn’t feel that way. And he doesn’t feel great mechanically. He’s working on a few things today in the cage and here early and hopefully it works out.”
Cora does not believe his 2019 results are related to his second-half swoon a year ago.
“I don’t think so, it’s more about this year,” the manager said. “His hands are not firing the way they usually do. You look at videos of Andrew in college all the way to last year, it’s the same swing. There’s a lot of swings and misses. A lot of chasing pitches up in the zone. Early in the season it was breaking balls down and in so there’s a few things that worked on today and it’s just a matter of going out there, if it’s tonight, tonight or whenever it is, but they’re on the same page as far as that and where to go and hopefully it works out.”
Heath Hembree returned to the roster after being sidelined since June 11 with a strained right elbow extensor. In his 31 appearances this season before getting hurt, Hembree allowed opponents a .189 batting average, with 35 strikeouts and 12 walks over 28 ⅔ innings with a 2.51 ERA. He stranded 18 of his 23 inherited runners and held opponents to a .119 average (6-for-44) with runners in scoring position.
“It’s important for us — he’s thrown the ball well,” Cora said. “Obviously he hasn’t pitched in a while but he’s a guy that can get lefties and righties out, induce weak contact. He attacks guys the right way so it’s great to have him back.”
Cora swatted away the theory that being paired with catcher Christian Vazquez was a factor in Chris Sale getting roughed up Wednesday.
“Obviously we gameplanned, we talked — that’s a team, the first two games, most of their hits were on breaking balls,” Cora said. “He’s got to go with what we think will work. Yesterday, three home runs were on fastballs. We threw a lot of them. I think we didn’t use the changeup that much, but it was just the way we gameplanned for them yesterday. It just didn’t work.”
Cora confirmed Sale will not necessarily be throwing to his more familiar catcher Sandy Leon the rest of the way.
“No, no, we’ll keep working the way we always do,” Cora said. “I know Sandy has caught him most of the time. Whenever he pitches, we’ll make a decision and we’ll go with a catcher.”