BALTIMORE —It’s been a while since he erupted onto the scene, but Michael Chavis’s opportunity with the Red Sox arrived once more in Saturday evening’s game against the Orioles.
In the first half of 2019, Chavis’s debut season, he hit .263 with 15 home runs only to see his average plummet to .221 the rest of the way. That was followed by a pandemic-shortened, 60-game season during which his batting average fell to .212.
As the 2021 season approached, Chavis found himself on the outside looking in when it came to a roster spot. A couple of key acquisitions, including Marwin Gonzalez and Kiké Hernández, coupled with the positive impression Christian Arroyo made during spring training, meant Chavis would start his season in Triple A Worcester.
However, Chavis, who was placed on the team’s taxi squad for this four-game series against the Orioles at Camden Yards, found his way back to the big leagues when he was called up after Hernández was placed on the 10-day injured list Friday with a strained hamstring.
It marked his second stint with the big league club. He was recalled April 10 at Baltimore, entering as a pinch runner in the 10th inning of a 6-4 victory over the Orioles during which he scored on a wild pitch.
“I was talking yesterday with our hitting coach, and I was like, ‘Do you think I should approach this 10-day stint as an opportunity to prove myself and maybe earn a spot?’” recalled Chavis, who drew the start at second base and was penciled into Alex Cora’s lineup as the leadoff hitter in a 11-6 win over the Orioles.
“After really thinking about it with him, and talking through it with him, I don’t think that’s the appropriate approach from my own mindset.”
When the competition tightened during spring, Cora noticed Chavis began chasing results, something the player noted as the reason he started to get outside of his tried-and-true approach.
Not controlling the strike zone has always been an issue for Chavis, and it reared its head once more. So, when Chavis was optioned to Worcester, the team wanted him to focus on his control of the strike zone.
Judging from his second plate appearance Saturday night, it was apparent Chavis had solved his issues. After striking out in the first inning, Chavis’s persistence paid off when he belted a two-run homer off Orioles lefthanded starter Zac Lowther to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead in the second.
“Well, first at-bat, I’d never faced that guy before and if we’re being completely honest, we’re human and I was scared,’' Chavis admitted after going 1 for 6. “I’ve been in the big leagues before and I’ve had some experience up here, but 100 percent I was a little bit nervous.
“It was kind of weird, but those jitters showed up and that first at-bat it sped me up a little bit, and that second at-bat, I was able to slow it down a little bit and it just kind of fell into place. We’re just going to try and keep getting better every single day.”
But, given the circumstances of the season, Chavis said it was a difficult task getting things sorted out at the team’s alternate training site.. During simulated games, the team didn’t have umpires. As a result, Chavis said it was difficult to get a really good sense of the strike zone.
“It was odd,” Chavis said. “Working on zone recognition when we didn’t have any umpires, to say the least, I mean, you don’t have a legitimate consistent strike zone. You’d have a guy either standing behind the pitcher’s mound calling balls and strikes. So you have a catcher who’s working with the pitcher to call balls and strikes. But he doesn’t want to mess up his pitcher. He doesn’t want to mess you up, [either].”
It also helped Chavis prepare for this opportunity when he came into spring training lean and in better shape.
“Somebody else thinks I’m quick,” Chavis joked. “I feel good. I really do.”
Stretching out starters
The Red Sox have gotten at least five innings from their starters in five of their last six appearances. For much of the season, that has been the standard for this Red Sox pitching staff. But Cora said before the game that his team now needs more length.
“We’ve been talking about it,” Cora said. “The whole 30 whatever games, it feels like we’ve been in every game from day one. And that’s great. But sometimes it’s like, this is too much. Right now, we’re not getting that [length]. We’re getting five quality innings and so hopefully, we start turning the corner and it’s time to start getting there.”
Righthanded starter Garrett Richards, meanwhile, delivered another seven strong innings for the Sox, allowing four runs on eight hits, including one homer, while issuing one walk and striking out five batters. It was the second time in his last three outings Richards has lasted seven innings.
“It’s huge,” Richards said. “To go out there and grab another [inning] right there at the end, it saves an arm. It goes a long way. The bullpen is a moving piece. And sometimes it gets in trouble. But if you can do everything you can on your day to make that easier, it goes a long way.”
Hirokazu Sawamura has allowed four runs in his last 4⅓ innings of work. Those outings included three homers, including one in Friday’s 6-2 victory over the Orioles. Cora believes there’s an adjustment Sawamura needs to make.
“Fastball is down in the zone,” Cora said. “That’s something that we have talked about it. We actually we want him to elevate.”
Cora was encouraged by Sawamura’s velocity Friday, which came in at 97-98 m.ph. But he believes the stuff will play more aggressive at attacking hitters with those fastballs up.
“That’s what they’re hunting and they put good swings on it,” Cora said regarding Sawamura throwing too many low fastballs. “Besides that he’s been okay.”