THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Bates is catching on

He’s contributing in a major way

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / July 13, 2009
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Aaron Bates’s big league career was only four games old but he and Bruce Chen had some history, and that history was on Bates’s side. They had crossed paths in the Puerto Rican league last winter. The details weren’t all that important. Bates tagged Chen for a couple of hits, the Red Sox first baseman recalled. Chen might have struck him out.

Yesterday Chen was in a Royals uniform, Bates was with the Sox and what mattered to Bates was that he had seen Chen’s repertoire. He had an idea what to expect. And after coming up from Pawtucket Monday and going 1 for 6 with four strikeouts in his first four big league games, Bates had a chance to put together a good day at the plate.

In a way, it was like having the answers to a test.

“I knew what the ball looked like out of his hand,’’ Bates said. “So that made it easier.’’

In his first at-bat, in the second inning, Bates smacked Chen’s fourth pitch into the left-field corner, the ball bouncing across the warning track, then off the Monster for a double. Two innings later, he stroked a double to center field that scored Nick Green and sent Chen to the showers after just three-plus innings.

By the time he was done, Bates was 3 for 4, adding a single to right for good measure in the fifth inning of the Sox’ 6-0 win over the Royals. What began as a rocky introduction to the majors ended with Bates having an outing to build on with the possibility of him returning to Pawtucket when Mike Lowell returns after the All-Star break.

To manager Terry Francona, Bates looked like a man who knew something no one else did.

“You could tell he felt good about himself today,’’ Francona said. “Hits the ball to center, hits two balls to the right, pulls a ball down the [left-field] line. When you use the whole field, and you hit the ball square like that, you’re feeling pretty good.’’

Despite the impressive performance, Bates stayed humble.

“I got some pitches up in the zone, put some good swings on them, and they fell in,’’ he said.

The swing Bates has been putting on balls is one he re-tooled in the offseason, getting rid of the high leg kick he featured since his playing days at North Carolina State. As he shredded through pitching at Double A Portland, hitting .340 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 52 games, it was easy to see the benefits. The Sox promoted him to Triple A Pawtucket in June, and those numbers dipped to a .182 average with two home runs and seven RBIs in 24 games. In his last 10 games before joining Boston, he was 4 for 39 with seven strikeouts.

When Bates struck a pinch-hit, RBI single to center in the Sox’ 15-9 victory over the Royals Saturday night, it was the first hit of his major league career. It was also his first hit since June 25.

“When we called him up, he had had a tough time in Triple A for the past 10 days or two weeks. And then he got a hit [Saturday] night, and so often when guys get a hit, they loosen up and the feel good about themselves,’’ said Francona. “He took some really good swings today.’’

Knowing the parent club was in a pinch when Jeff Bailey, a reinforcement for Lowell, went down with an injury of his own, Bates said he came to Boston without personal goals, just a desire to contribute and possibly absorb some things while he had the chance.

“You just try to learn as much as you can when you’re off the field,’’ he said. “Stay out of everyone’s way, kind of blend in and try to be as much of a sponge as possible. You’ve got unbelievably great players up here and you try to learn anything you can from them - pick their brains - and it’s been fun.

“I want to learn as much as I can in the short time while I’m here.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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