When Alex Cora made the decision in spring training to swap Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi in the batting order, making the latter his new leadoff hitter, the manager expected him to produce.
It was a tall order to ask Benintendi to be Betts, the reigning American League MVP who batted .346 with 32 homers and 79 RBI as a leadoff hitter in 2018. But the Red Sox rightfully had confidence in Benintendi, who hit .322 in 21 games as a leadoff hitter last season.
Through two months, the Red Sox still are waiting for Benintendi to click atop the lineup.
It’s unfair to compare him to Betts, but Benintendi is not where he needs to be. The left fielder is hitting just .263 at the leadoff spot, which includes an alarming .077 average in the first inning. That includes 16 strikeouts and just three hits in 39 at-bats.
Cora sees all those numbers, and he’s not the least bit concerned. He hasn’t been tempted to move Betts back up — he said he’d actually be more tempted to move Michael Chavis to lead off against lefty pitching — and he trusts Benintendi, a career .280 hitter, to get in a groove.
The manager doesn’t think Benintendi is putting pressure on himself as the leadoff hitter.
“I was talking to him the other day, I told him to do whatever you want,” Cora said of Benintendi’s first-inning issues. “If you want to swing, swing. If you want to take, take. If you want to go the other way, try to go the other way. If you want to hit it in the air, just do it. I trust this guy. We stayed with him last year hitting second. He started off better, but he’s a pure hitter, and he will hit. We’ve been talking about it, maybe routine-wise, he’s a little bit different, but he can’t be that different, because he was hitting second. He’ll figure it out.”
Before the season, Benintendi said he wanted to hit .300 — he hit .290 last season — and then everything else would fall into place. But he’s batting just .256 now. And though he cared less about his power numbers, he has just five homers so far this season.