Red Sox manager Alex Cora gives Mookie Betts big boost

OAKLAND, Calif. – Baseball players are creatures of habit. They are generally wired differently than most. Even though players are taught from an early age to live by the daily routine of the game, they are, however, willing to make adjustments from time to time. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t and they adjust again.

While Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts might not make obvious physical adjustments at the plate, it was a winter meeting at a restaurant with first year manager, Alex Cora, that led to a major adjustment in his attack plan that has paid instant dividends. On Jan. 3, both Cora and Betts got together in Boston and over a meal and he told Mookie what he wanted him to do.

Last season, as the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros were preparing to play the Red Sox in the American League Division Series, Cora, then the Astros bench coach, had a conversation with Astros pitching coach Brent Strom about a number of Red Sox hitters, including Betts. The part about how they were planning on pitching to Mookie caught Cora’s attention the most.

“The first two at bats there were a lot of bad takes, fastballs right down the middle, a lot of ‘auto takes’ and then in the third at bat he will ambush and swing at the first pitch,” Cora told me this week while in the manager’s office inside the Red Sox clubhouse in Anaheim.

“We would get ahead of him with a fastball, then throw a fastball away and expand his strike zone. I talked with Mookie about it, the whole thing, about what we thought about him and what the whole league thought about him. I told him he would be leading off and that I wanted him to swing and just attack from the get go,” Cora said.

Betts, with his infectious smile, told Cora, “I can do that. That is simple.”

That simple adjustment in his batting approach has helped Betts get off to a remarkable start and put the rest of the American League on notice that this could be an MVP campaign. The same adjustment worked with Houston’s Jose Altuve last year. The diminutive Astros second baseman, swung at the first strike almost 45 percent of the time in 2017, the fourth-highest percentage in Major League Baseball and the results were more than impressive. Altuve, who stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall on a good day, had a memorable performance when he launched three home runs in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox last year on the way to winning the AL MVP Award and the World Series.

With Betts and the Red Sox adopting this more aggressive approach, opposing pitchers, including Los Angeles Angels phenom, Shohei Ohtani have been rocked and chased from games early. I asked Betts after his three homer game (off three different pitchers, including Ohtani) on Tuesday against the Angels if he realized that all three long balls he squared up traveled over 400 feet.

“Really? I didn’t realize that. I didn’t think I had that much in the tank”, the modest outfielder replied.

It is obvious that his tank is more than full. It is overflowing. He is only 25 years old. Ted Williams didn’t have his third three homer game until he was in his late 30’s and Mookie and the Splendid Splinter are the only two who have ever pulled off the homer hat trick in Red Sox history. Cora’s philosophies are working with Betts and the Red Sox are off to an historic start. A start that has never been seen in the 118 previous years of Boston baseball.

The Sox and A’s wrap up their three game series this afternoon at 4:05 ET with lefty David Price (2-1 2.25) on the mound vs. right hander Daniel Mengden (2-2 4.50). The team will charter to Toronto after today’s game for a day off tomorrow then begin a series with the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.

Tim Neverett is in his third season as Red Sox Radio Play-By-Play Announcer for the WEEI Red Sox Radio Network throughout New England. Tim can be followed on Twitter @timneverett