ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- While Rusney Castillo was making his professional debut for the Red Sox 120 miles south in Fort Myers on Sunday, fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes was here, closing the book on his first month with the Red Sox.
Cespedes’s performance -- a team-high 22 runs batted in during August -- would suggest that he has handled the transition to a new team with some degree of ease.
He was inclined to agree.
“My adjustment here, I am comfortable both on and off the field,’’ said Cespedes, who had a single in four trips in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field.
Cespedes, batting .333 (8-for-24) in the first six games of this trip, posted a slash line of .276/.297/.457/.754 in his first month with the Red Sox. That’s a marked improvement over the .198/.221/.352/.573 he posted in his last month with Oakland. His 22 RBIs were the most he has had in any month this season, and his four home runs matched Mike Napoli for second-most on the Sox in August, one fewer than David Ortiz.
Cespedes, Napoli and Ortiz combined to hit 13 of Boston’s 19 home runs in August, the fewest the team has hit in any month in 2014.
“I was able to adapt more quickly here than in Oakland,’’ Cespedes said through translator Adrian Lorenzo, the Miami native, Penn grad and Sox baseball operations intern who has had extensive experience with Spanish-speaking players while working with agent Adam Katz (who, incidentally, represents Cespedes).
“Not because of any difference in Oakland,’’ Cespedes said. “Just the result of three years here in the major leagues, understanding the system. In both clubhouses, everybody has been incredibly nice, welcoming and receptive. It’s just been a little easier, given my experience. So yes, I’m comfortable.’’
A month later, the Athletics are five games behind the Angels in the West after losing four straight this weekend in Anaheim, and are facing the prospect of a one-game wild-card play-in to qualify for the playoffs. On Sunday, they acquired all-or-nothing slugger Adam Dunn from the Chicago White Sox to provide a presence in the lineup sorely missing since the Cespedes trade.
The Athletics had a worse record in August (12-17) than the Sox (12-16). The Red Sox outscored the Athletics, 111-103. Nineteen times in August, the Athletics were held to three runs or fewer, and they scored a total of four runs in four games against the Angels this weekend.
It’s pretty clear, then, what effect subtracting Cespedes from the Oakland lineup has had on the Athletics, even though his numbers in June made for by far the worst month in his nearly three seasons in the big leagues. In his first season with the Athletics, in 2012, Cespedes did not have a single month in which his OPS dipped below .800. That happened twice in 2013, and three times this season.
Cespedes said he could not pinpoint a reason for his struggles in June.
“I don’t think there was anything specific or special in that period,’’ he said. “Every ballplayer goes through their ups and downs.’’
He was equally opaque when asked to describe how he knows when he is locked in at the plate.
“The results tell me,’’ he said. “I don’t really know when I’m in the zone. I’m going to come in and work hard anyway. If something is not going well, I will work on that specific thing, but there are no indicators of when I’m in the zone. The results tell me, but the process remains the same.’’
With a month to observe Cespedes, Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn has come away impressed by what he has seen.
“Fun to watch him play,’’ Colbrunn said. “He can beat you with his arm, glove, bat, baserunning. I knew he was a good athlete, but watching him on an everyday basis, he can do some things out there.’’
Cespedes’s sub-.300 on-base percentage and total of three walks in 111 plate appearances this month would seem to run counter to the prevailing philosophy of the Sox in recent years.
“But he’s been swinging at good pitches,’’ Colbrunn said. “That’s what we talk about, getting a good pitch. Not necessarily trying to draw a walk, but going up there and getting a good pitch, and taking good swings at good pitches.
“For the most part, he’s done that. And his approach with runners in scoring position, that’s added to our lineup immensely.’’
All four of Cespedes’s home runs with the Sox have given the team a lead.
Colbrunn said Cespedes is not one to study much video, but has excellent work habits.
“He’s been great in the cage,’’ Colbrunn said. “He comes in every day, working hard. He doesn’t miss a day swinging. He works very hard when he’s hitting.’’
Cespedes said that like Castillo, he went nearly a year and a half without playing in a game after leaving Cuba. The difference for him, he said, was that he had the benefit of spring training with Oakland. Castillo is learning on the fly.
“It will probably be to [Castillo’s] benefit to see some live pitching before he gets here,’’ Cespedes said.
And if Castillo, eager to make a good first impression, struggles when he does arrive in the big leagues?
“If it’s not a strong-minded player and he gets here and doesn’t succeed right away and struggles, it will go a little different for him,’’ Cespedes said. “But to his benefit, he’ll have me and David (Ortiz) and everybody else to help him, explain how this works and the ups and downs.’’
Cespedes may even be able to help Castillo with his English. While he employs a translator to conduct interviews, it’s clear he understands a good deal of what is said in his adopted language. That became apparent when a reporter concluded an interview by asking him whether it was too late for the reporter to have a physique like Cespedes’s.
The player did not wait for the translation. “I think so,’’ he said.