PITTSBURGH — Now is not the time to write off J.D. Drew [stats]. He’s hitting .232. He’s exhibited almost no power. He ranks at the bottom of virtually every category among full-time outfielders. He’s got youngster Josh Reddick breathing down his neck.
It doesn’t matter. As eager as many have been to crate him up aboard the first steamer to Siberia since he arrived in 2007, Drew actually has been a productive player for the bulk of his tenure. And he has shown signs recently of being that player again.
Now it doesn’t help that he left yesterday’s 4-2 win over the Pirates in the second inning while battling the after-effects of a ball he fouled off his left eye during batting practice.
But that setback aside, Drew has actually swung the bat better recently. Two of his outs on Saturday were rockets to the fence. He laced a pinch single off a left-hander Friday. During a two-hit game against the Brewers last week, he was robbed with a diving catch in a right and also lined out to deep center.
He entered yesterday’s game batting .316 in his previous six outings. A modest streak to be sure, but a sign nonetheless of improved at-bats.
“Anytime you struggle, it’s nothing you want to go through,” said Drew before yesterday’s game. “This has been kind of a head-scratcher, trying to find a rhythm and get that swing you’re looking for. But it’s there.”
Drew describes most of his struggles this season as mental. He was swinging the bat well out of Fort Myers and as late as April 27 found himself hitting .285 with an .800 OPS.
Then Drew fell off a cliff. He hit just .179 over his next 26 games with production that barely showed up under a scanning electron microscope — two homers, two doubles, five RBI.
“I got in some bad habits early on,” Drew said. “Sooner or later it will come around. Sometimes you over think the situation and try to change things, and I think I found myself doing that. I’ve tried to get back to what I’ve done throughout my career here and even before I got here, and that’s to keep it simple and be short and quick to the ball.”
Drew has spent a lot of time with hitting coach Dave Magadan in an attempt to simplify his approach and the results have been there, even if they haven’t as far as his stats are concerned.
“It would be nice to get some of those hits to fall,” he said. “In the two-hit game the other day, I hit two bullets that go for a diving catch and a line drive to center. For the most part, I think the at-bats over the last four or five days have been better. Hopefully can get that rhythm rolling and keep it going, but it would be surely nice to find some of those holes out there.”
Drew is never going to be popular with Red Sox fans, who shriek like banshees at the mention of his name. They’ve believed him overpaid since the day he signed for five years and $70 million.
But for all the heat general manager Theo Epstein has rightfully taken over free agent signings like John Lackey, Matt Clement and Julio Lugo [stats], Drew doesn’t belong in their class. He’s been a tough out, an exceptional right fielder and a clutch postseason performer. He’s no superstar, but he’s a valuable piece of a winning team.
He can still be that piece. Drew just needs a little more time. The Red Sox should give it to him.