Wednesday night made it three games in a row for Gordon Beckham batting in the #2 slot, and it's fairly unlikely that it was accidental.
There was a time where Beckham's skill-set at the plate seemed to be made for the #2 hole, but the Sox have been waiting for him to hit enough to deserve it for around two calendar years now.
His ascension isn't necessarily a ringing endorsement. Alexei Ramirez and Brent Morel swung their out of the spot early on, A.J. Pierzynski can't be stuffed in between fellow lefties De Aza and Dunn, and Ventura seems to be holding onto Alex Rios as a middle-of-the-order hitter for as long as he can.
Beckham showed a pulse to start the month of May, and was swiftly rewarded.
Since then? Well, he's gone 2 for 12 with a walk and two strikeouts. Nothing to really get on about either way.
The enthusiasm for Beckham largely is carried over from last week, when he had three multi-hit games and clocked two home runs. In response to the tidal wave of excitement that accompanies any positive Beckham development, hitting coach Jeff Manto threw everyone a bone:
[In reference to Beckham's swing] "“He’s gotten that back to where he was in the minor leagues and when he first got here,’’ Manto said Monday. “That’s what the project has been, to get him to where he was.’’
At the end of a detailed description of improvements made to Beckham's posture at the plate, Manto also threw out a qualifier.
"I’m not saying he can hit .300 or .280, but he’s able to make adjustments throughout a season.’’
The selective visuals have been impressive. Beckham's two home runs featured him getting around and pulling pitches in the 91-92 mph range--something he hasn't shown the ability to do in recent years--and the contact has generally seemed more authoritative, with more of his rookie tendency to spray line drives to right field on display.
The spray chart for May (right) is already presenting more drives to right field than took place in April (left), and all the batted ball measures indicate something positive is taking place (more line drives, less pop-ups). He's also putting fastballs in play a shade more from last month. He's had an encouraging stretch, no doubt.
But as Sahadev Sharma pointed out the other night, even Gordon's dreadful 2011 campaign saw a two and a half week period where he hit .400. Even bad hitters have their balls fall in every now and then, and that was all Beckham's hot streak from last year was. He hit a lot of singles, drew hardly any walks, the only home run he hit was in Coors Field, and his batting average on balls in play was a clearly unsustainable .462.
That's not the case right now. He's already had more extra-base hits this month (7) as he had for that entire stretch last year, and small sample blips where a player drives the ball with authority are a bit more meaningful than a stretch of seeing-eye singles.
Going back to Manto's qualifier; he didn't throw it out for comic relief. While it's dismissive to simply say that he's covering himself from possible failure, there could be something to that, though not in a way that's cynical about Manto. Gordon Beckham has been out of sorts for the better part of two years, and it's become misguided to consider him simply an uncut diamond.
It may be time to regard him the way we consider Rios, a hitter who struggles beat back his bad habits for prolonged stretches of time. Manto stipulated that he's in a position to make adjustments, which is going to much more useful to Beckham going forward than having a performance level to strive toward.
It could all serve to put Beckham on a time limit to make the #2 role his own, because Alexei Ramirez is nothing if not a player who always displayed the ability to pull himself up to his own career standards by the end of the year, and he's had some big nights recently too.