One of the most enjoyable daily events at Fenway Park is the 30-45 minute infield session run by Brian Butterfield that begins at 3:30. This daily full infield was originated by Alex Cora when he was a utility infielder for the Red Sox in 2006, his first disciple was Dustin Pedroia upon his recall from Pawtucket and now Pedroia virtually makes the program mandatory, especially for younger players like Jose Iglesias before he was traded, Will Middlebrooks and now Xander Bogaerts.
Since Middlebrooks came back from the minor leagues, he has become a vastly different defensive third baseman. He was having back issues when he went down to the minors, but, now healthy, Butterfield has gotten Middlebrooks far lower in his approach to ground balls and through tedious repetition has helped his ability to charge slow rollers and deal with bad hops.
And the biggest revelation has been the 20-year old Bogaerts at shortstop. It has long been suggested that because Bogaerts is probably going to be 6-3 and 200-something pounds that he might take his power to another position, but after Butterfield drilled him to exploding, not gliding to ground balls, the Boston coach is convinced Bogaerts will be the long-term shortstop. “No doubt,” says John McDonald, one of the best defenders of the last 15 years. “Xander is constantly asking Stephen Drew and me questions the whole time we work together,” says McDonald. “He wants everything our experience can give him. Special doesn’t begin to describe him.”
As big as Bogaerts is, his actions are extremely compact, those of someone 5-11. “He’s a shortstop,” says Butterfield. “And will be for a long time.”
Over the years, there have been owners and people in management positions that have never appreciated the worth of really good coaches. Another example with the Red Sox is the work Juan Nieves has done to restore Jon Lester’s power. From the beginning of spring training, Nieves and John Farrell have emphasized that Lester should get back to standing tall and driving his fastball into the strike zone, something he got away from as he became increasingly reliant on his cutter and subsequently dropped back on his left leg, throwing uphill.
On July 13, a start in which he struggled against Oakland, Lester was basically 91-93 and threw less than 60% strikes with his fastball. Tuesday night against Detroit and Scherzer, Lester was 94-97, threw 80 % strikes with that heater, and having stretched out his arm the last six weeks used fewer cutters but those he threw topped out at 95, one of which ate up Miguel Cabrera. “That was the best I’ve ever seen him,” said Jim Leyland. “He was unbelievable. There’s their number one starter in the post-season.” In his last 10 starts, Lester has a 2.53 earned run average.