ATLANTA -- Within the past week, Travis Shaw recognized a potentially troublesome trend. Opposing pitchers were attacking him with inside fastballs, believing he's vulnerable to pitches in that location. And so, after he went hitless on Monday night, the young Boston Red Sox third baseman spent extra time in the batting cage on Tuesday making an adjustment to his swing.
Sure enough, in the first inning, Atlanta Braves starter Matt Wisler's fourth pitch to Shaw began inside before drifting back over the plate. Shaw turned on it, hammering it over the right-field wall for a three-run home run that keyed the Red Sox's 13-hit outburst in an 11-4 rout at Turner Field.
And just like that, if there was any lingering doubt about Shaw's big-league staying power, it was erased.
"It's something I didn't want to really have to focus on, but it seemed like that was becoming more of the book on me right now," Shaw said of the perception that he is weak on inside pitches. "I wanted to go ahead and close that up before it got out of hand."
There have been many hitters who burst into the big leagues with the success Shaw enjoyed last season, only to fizzle once the league saw them a time or two. In fact, Shaw's 13 homers, .487 slugging percentage and .327 on-base percentage in 226 at-bats after getting called up from Triple-A Pawtucket were remarkably similar to another young Red Sox third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, who flamed out after hitting 15 homers, slugging .509 and reaching base at a .325 clip in 267 at-bats as a rookie in 2012.
Middlebrooks' problem stemmed from a combination of injuries and an inability to adjust to the changing patterns of opposing pitchers. He hit only 19 homers and slugged .364 in 563 at-bats in 2013-14, leading the Red Sox to trade him to San Diego for backup catcher Ryan Hanigan. Middlebrooks wasn't any more effective with the Padres in 2015; he moved to Milwaukee and was sent to Triple-A by the Brewers this year.
It doesn't appear the Red Sox will have to worry about Shaw falling into the same abyss. After going 2-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs on Tuesday night, he's batting .324 and slugging .521 with a .392 on-base percentage, two homers and eight doubles, which ties him with David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts for the team lead in doubles.
"He looks great up there," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "He's having great at-bats, making all the right adjustments. He's a really good hitter. It's fun to watch."
It also speaks to Shaw's talent and work ethic that none of the Red Sox veterans complained at the end of spring training when manager John Farrell named Shaw the Opening Day third baseman over Pablo Sandoval, who remains popular within the clubhouse even while he has been mocked and maligned by fans for his struggles with his weight.
Shaw isn't merely along for the ride, either. He has batted sixth for most of the season, and with Ortiz on the bench in DH-less games at Turner Field this week, Farrell moved Shaw into the cleanup spot. Early in the season, Farrell was using a pinch hitter for Shaw against tough left-handed pitchers. That hasn't been the case for the past few weeks.
And until he committed a rare throwing error on Tuesday night, Shaw had played nearly flawlessly at third base.
"He's more than handled the position defensively, and to a greater extent than we would've expected," Farrell said. "He's playing very well defensively, so from that standpoint maybe he's exceeding what our expectations are."
There was also reason to wonder about Shaw's offense, especially considering his pedestrian numbers in Triple-A.
Shaw said pitchers tried to pound him inside last season, as well, but it took longer -- about 45 at-bats -- for him to recognize it and adapt. This time around, Shaw figured it out much more quickly, with Monday's 0-for-3 serving as the outlier in a seven-game stretch in which he has gone 10-for-30 (.333).
"The league's going to adjust to you, and you've got to find a way to make your adjustments fast. He's been doing that," Pedroia said. "That way it's 10 at-bats, instead of 20 or 30. It's been great to watch him do that. He's got a good swing, he's got a good IQ for the game. We're all confident in him."
With each passing game, Shaw is giving everyone a reason to stay that way.