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For Beltre, confidence returning

Third baseman is feeling comfortable with glove, bat

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 6, 2010

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The ball was coming right at Adrian Beltre. But so was the barrel of Torii Hunter’s bat after it snapped off in his hands in the third inning last night at Fenway Park.

Most people would have turned their backs and covered their heads. But a third baseman is baseball’s version of a hockey goalie. Beltre stood his ground and started a double play that ended the inning. The bat hit the ground a few feet away.

“It’s a little scary sometimes,’’ Beltre said after the Red Sox finished off a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. “The good thing was it was low. So if it’s going to hit you, it’s going to hit you in the feet somewhere. When it’s high, that thing can kill you. That’s different.’’

Beltre also kept a sharp eye on the ball at the plate, going 3 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs. He drove in the first run of the game with a single in the second inning then hit a long home run off Brian Fuentes in the eighth, a blast that carried above the camera deck in center field.

The shot gave Jonathan Papelbon some cushion in the ninth inning and helped the Sox to their 10th victory in the last 15 games.

“That was very welcome at that point, that extra run,’’ manager Terry Francona said.

After going 24 games without a home run, Beltre has hit two in the last three games. The combination of power and defense is what enticed the Red Sox to sign him in January.

“The game is all about confidence and when you keep hitting the ball hard, it makes it easy because you don’t think so much,’’ Beltre said. “When you get in a slump, you start thinking and over thinking and that’s when you get deeper in a hole. I’m not thinking now. I’m just going to the plate, seeing it and hitting it.’’

Beltre is 20 of 46 (.435) in his last 12 games with six extra-base hits and nine RBIs. The hot streak has raised his batting average to .340 and his on-base percentage to an uncharacteristic .374. He has 15 RBIs as well.

A notoriously impatient hitter, Beltre is following the lead of his teammates by working deeper into counts and being more selective.

“I’m usually a slow starter,’’ he said. “I’m not complaining. I’d rather be a .300 hitter than just have a few more home runs. I’ve never in my career hit for power the first couple of months. It always gradually picks up. I’m always a slow starter, average-wise and power-wise. Don’t ask me why I’ve never been able to figure it out. But the average has been good and I hope it stays that way.’’

The same has been true in the field. After a few mistakes on routine plays, Beltre is playing the premium defense expected of him. Along with the double play, he snagged a hard-hit ball off the bat of Howie Kendrick with a quick turn in the fifth inning and made a strong throw across the diamond.

“There were some tough plays tonight and when he has to react, it’s unbelievable,’’ Francona said. “I think he’s starting to play with some more confidence. Those aren’t easy plays.’’

Beltre said getting accustomed to his new office took some time.

“I wasn’t happy the way I was playing in the field,’’ he said. “But I wasn’t doing anything wrong. For some reason the balls I was getting were in-between hops. Sometimes you get yourself in that situation. Some of those were do-or-die.

“I had to get the hang of the grass here. The balls come like snakes and if you take your eyes off the ball for one second, you’re probably going to miss it. I’m trying to take as many balls as I can. But there are different hops everywhere. I have no choice but to get used to it.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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