ST. LOUIS -- Andrew Benintendi began his first full major-league season by batting second for the Boston Red Sox. Two weeks ago, with the offense straining to score runs, he was moved to the cleanup spot. He has started all but one of 39 games and played all but nine of 359 innings.
By now, it's clear that Red Sox manager John Farrell wouldn't trust Benintendi any more if he was his doctor.
So, it will take a lot more than an 0-for-26 skid for Farrell to consider dropping Benintendi down in the batting order or, heaven forbid, sit him down for a few games, a la center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. earlier this month when he was in the midst of a slump.
"There's no wavering confidence in his abilities and what he's done in a very short period of time," Farrell said Wednesday before the Red Sox wrapped up a two-game interleague series here against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 5-4 win. "He's a really good-looking young player. Because of four, five games that he's come up a little bit dry, there are other ways he can contribute."
A few hours later, right on cue, Benintendi stepped to the plate with one out, the tying run on third base and "0-FOR-3" staring at him from the center-field scoreboard at Busch Stadium. Facing hard-throwing Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal, Benintendi took a 100-mph fastball for a called strike, laid off a 101-mph dirt-diver, then got enough of his bat on another 100-mph heater to lift it into left field for a sacrifice fly.
Impressive at-bat for a guy who hasn't gotten a hit in nine days.
"Right now, obviously, they're not falling for me, so I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win," Benintendi said after the Red Sox got seven scoreless innings from eight relievers over 13 innings. "In that situation, going against Rosenthal, who's throwing 101, I was just trying to put the barrel on it and get something to the outfield. So, yeah, it was nice."
One reason Farrell is able to show so much faith in Benintendi is the 22-year-old's astute knowledge of the strike zone and uncanny knack for making contact. In the minors, Benintendi drew more walks (74) and had more extra-base hits (74) than strikeouts (63). Among 92 American League hitters with at least 120 plate appearances entering Wednesday night, he was the 14th-hardest to strike out, whiffing only once every 6.59 at-bats.
Even during his drought, which extends to a three-hit game in Milwaukee on May 9 and has dropped his average from .339 to .280 and his on-base percentage from .400 to .355, Benintendi has struck out only four times in 32 plate appearances. His outs have been mostly productive, moving runners on the bases, and he has managed four walks and one hit by pitch.
It doesn't mean he isn't frustrated by the lack of results. But Benintendi is seeing enough pitches and having competitive at-bats that he isn't panicking over a slump that would have most young players locking themselves in the batting cage to find answers.
"I mean, I feel like I'm working hard with [hitting coach] Chili [Davis], just trying to keep things simple," Benintendi said. "Sometimes they just don't fall. It'd be one thing if I was striking out half the time. But it's just not finding holes right now. I mean, all you can do is keep playing. A lot of games left, a lot of at-bats left, so we'll figure it out."
The Red Sox could have flown to Oakland overnight on the high they derived from Wednesday night's win. They used 21 players -- everyone save utility man Chase d'Arnaud and starting pitchers Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz -- and came all the way back from an early four-run deficit. Xander Bogaerts tripled twice, Bradley belted a two-run homer and Chris Young delivered a pinch single in the 13th inning to drive in Mitch Moreland with the go-ahead run.
"This is a big win. It's a huge shift," Farrell said. "This one tonight is a lot of grit, a lot of character and a lot of competitive at-bats late in the game."
Including one from Benintendi, even if he had to pack the hitless streak along with the rest of his equipment.
"I mean, I feel like I can only go up from here," Benintendi said.
And you know as well as Farrell that he will.