Kiké Hernández providing boost for Red Sox since moving back into leadoff spot

Remember when the Red Sox were struggling to find a consistent leadoff hitter? Neither does Kiké Hernández.

Over his last six games batting out of the leadoff spot for Boston, Hernández is slashing .364/.481/.818 with one double, three home runs, six RBI, four runs scored, four walks, and two strikeouts.

He may have collected just one base hit in Oakland on Friday night, but it proved to be the most important and clutchest one of the game since it drove in the winning run in the top of the 10th inning.

In the bottom half of the inning, Hernández showed off his defensive prowess in center field as well, as he gunned down the potential tying run — Seth Brown — at home plate to keep the score at 3-2 in the Sox’ eventual one-run win over the Athletics.

“I like playing defense,” Hernández said Friday night. “I take a lot of pride in it. Hunter (Renfroe’s) really good, he does the same thing. We work really hard at it. Every day, we’re out there taking live reads off the bat in (batting practice). (Alex Verdugo) is a gifted athlete as well. Everybody talks about our lineup but at the end of the day, pitching and defense is what wins ballgames.”

Hernández’s run of success on both sides of the ball as of late comes at a time when he was recently moved back up to the leadoff spot.

The 29-year-old, who signed a two-year, $14 million deal with Boston over the winter, opened the 2021 season as Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s leadoff hitter, but struggled in that role out of the gate.

From April 2 until June 15, Hernández hit .229/.287/.385 (80 wRC+) in 195 plate appearances out of the leadoff spot, resulting in Cora dropping him down in the lineup for a week’s worth of games beginning on June 19.

While he did not necessarily produce in terms of batting average (.227) over that stretch, Hernández did post an exceptional .845 OPS, which prompted a move back up to the leadoff spot on June 27 against the Yankees at Fenway Park.

On the very first pitch of his first at-bat that Sunday, Hernández cranked a 379-foot leadoff home run off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. He followed that up by crushing another leadoff homer against the Royals the next night, and then again this past Thursday.

In clubbing three leadoff home runs in the span of five days, Hernández became the first Red Sox player to accomplish that particular feat, per Red Sox Notes.

Prior to Hernández’s move back into the leadoff spot on June 27, Red Sox leadoff hitters ranked dead last in the majors in OPS (.638), weighted on-base average (.280), and wRC+ (71).

As of Saturday afternoon, Boston leadoff hitters (primarily Hernández) ranked second in the majors in OPS (1.282), third in wOBA (.513), and third in wRC+ (226) since June 27, per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox offense has pushed across the most runs in the American League (46) since Hernández reclaimed the top spot in Boston’s lineup, so it goes without saying that that move has made an impact.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Sox are 8-0 in their last eight games, the last six of which featured Hernández batting leadoff. At 52-31 on the season, they have opened up a 4 1/2 game lead over the Rays, who have dropped four straight, for first place in the American League East.

“It feels nice to be able to breathe a little bit as far as having the division lead,” said Hernández. “For a second there, it felt like Tampa Bay wouldn’t lose, even if they played themselves. You know, we’re getting hot at the right time and they’re kind of scuffling a little bit right now and we’re trying to get away from the teams that are under them as well.

“This doesn’t matter right now if, come the end of September, we’re not in first place,” he added. “So, we’re trying to play good baseball, we’re hot right now, and we’re trying to ride it out for as long as we can. We’re trying to minimize mistakes, we like where we’re at right now, and hopefully we can keep it going for a little longer.”

(Picture of Kiké Hernández: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Author: Brendan Campbell

Blogging about the Boston Red Sox since April '17. Also support Tottenham Hotspur.

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