Cleanup hitter Michael Chavis entering uncharted territory

Rob Bradford
May 07, 2019 - 7:11 am

BALTIMORE -- This one wasn't Michael Chavis' fault. When you come away with just three hits -- as the Red Sox managed in their 4-1 loss to the Orioles -- the lineup should take collective blame, with the possible exception of Christian Vazquez, who came away with two of the three. (For a complete recap of the Sox loss, click here.)

But, fair or not, the spotlight was on Chavis brighter than ever Monday night at Camden Yards. He was, after all, hitting cleanup.

It was the latest reminder that the rookie's world is changing in a hurry.

The second baseman's night was unremarkable, going 0-for-4 with three ground outs and a game-ending strikeout. But considering it was another new team with another new gameplan it offered another look into how the rest of baseball will be adjusting to the Red Sox' hottest hitter.

What jumped out right away was the heavy shift put on Chavis, with three infielders brought to the left side of second base. The alignment certainly didn't help matters on at least one of the infielder's outs. It was a strategy that shouldn't have come as a surprise considering a few things.

First, other teams have been coming at the righty hitter with the shift, as was the case when the White Sox were burned on two opposite-field hits. Also, the Orioles have had a scouting report on Chavis for some time, one which they actually implemented as far back as Single-A.

"I remember being shifted in (Single-A) Greenville," Chavis noted. "There were certain teams that would and the Orioles were one that did."

The world is changing for Chavis. But the good news for the Red Sox is that it appears their rookie is doing a pretty good job of changing along with it. That became evident during his first couple of at-bats against Tampa Bay closer Jose Alvarado.

"I think he hit that Alvarado fastball they went slider, slider. He laid off of them and started walking a little bit," remembered Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers. "So they went fastball up to see if he could hit that. He made a few adjustments, went through that period where he struck out a few times, where they were getting him with some fastballs up in the zone. Then he made the adjustment of leveling back out. Right now we’re seeing he has been pretty good. He has made good adjustments. His strike zone management has been really good. And the defensive alignment they have on him right now, it’s a gamble."

Chavis hasn't seemingly been overwhelmed by the alterations, whether it's how a team is pitching him, playing him or where they are putting him in the lineup.

The changes will be amped up. Just ask Andrew Benintendi who was only shifted by two teams in his first big league season before showing up for 2017 when he got a dose of three infielders on the right side from virtually everyone.

For now, the Red Sox' fifth different cleanup hitter is going with the flow.

"It's been pretty much the same. You have to think the scouting reports they have are coming from down in the minors," Chavis said. "Surprisingly it's been the same. When I first came it was one of the things asked all the guys. Did they get pitched differently when they first came up, but I’ve been pitched pretty much the same."

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The star for the Red Sox Monday night was undoubtedly recently-recalled Ryan Weber.

The righty saved the team's bullpen by coming in for starter Josh Smith and spinning four shutout innings. In his 55-pitch outing the 28-year-old struck out four, didn't walk a batter and allowed just three hits.

Weber had previously pitched in 24 major league games, having appeared in two big league contests with the Rays last season. In five starts with Triple-A Pawtucket this year he had totaled a 5.04 ERA.

It was solid punctuation to a day that began with a 7:15 a.m. flight to Baltimore.

"I mean, I felt really good, everything was working," he said. "Threw strikes, got ahead of everyone. And when I needed the strikeout, I was striking guys out. Slider was working. But staying in there and giving the team a chance was big."

The starter Josh Smith also showed decently despite giving up a game-changing grand slam to Jonathan Villar in the second inning, going 3 1/3 inning.

"Weber was good. Smitty, too," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Just one pitch and it wasn’t that bad of a pitch. It was a breaking ball. Villar looked like he was sitting on it and put a good swing. When we get 24 outs and four runs, usually, especially lately, we have a chance to win the game. They were both great. Heater (Heath Hembree) did a good job, too, coming in and getting out of the inning, giving us a chance to win. That’s what we asked from them. Just give us a chance to win. They did. We just didn’t hit tonight."