FORT MYERS, Fla. — Xander Bogaerts got a curveball up and on the outer half from Cleveland’s Cody Allen, a curveball that in weeks previous he would have rolled over and grounded to shortstop. It was the eighth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS. It was Boston’s last best chance to extend its season.

Bogaerts had spent long stretches of last season making a decision too early on the pitches he was seeing, pulling pitches on the outer half and trying to go the other way with pitches in. He’d psyched himself out before the pitcher even released the ball. He’d tried too hard to pull pitches on the outer edge.

“When I struggled so bad, man, I could never stay close to the ball,” Bogaerts said at JetBlue Park. “I’d hit balls on the white line outside and pull it over there. It’s something I normally would not do, but it’s a habit I created. I don’t know why or how.”

Now on this, the last swing he took last season, he was balanced and in position and ready to hit the ball where it was pitched. He squared it up and smacked it hard toward right field. It thwacked into the glove of a well-positioned Jason Kipnis, thwarting a Red Sox rally in the game that ended their season.

As an outcome, it was devastating.

As a process, however, it was perfect.

Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez had seen several such swings from Bogaerts in the final two weeks of the season. He saw a double to right-center field at Tampa Bay. He ripped a home run down the left-field line at New York as well as a line-drive single to right field. He saw a triple down the right-field line against Toronto at Fenway Park. All came in the final week of the season. Bogaerts slugged .593 in that final week.

In their conversations before one of the playoff games against Cleveland, Rodriguez made Bogaerts promise to bottle that swing and bring it to spring training with him. It wasn’t even about going the other way, necessarily. It was about hitting the ball where it was pitched – and hitting it hard. It was about trusting his ability to react rather than forcing an outcome one way or the other.

“When he came here, I said, ‘Do you know what we talked about with Cleveland, that last game, when you hit bullets to right field?’ ” Rodriguez said during the first week of workouts. “He just looked at me, like, ‘I don’t remember that long ago.’ I said, ‘I remember.’ That’s where we started. We’re going to go from there.”

Bogaerts hit .294 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .446 slugging percentage last season, including 21 home runs and 34 doubles. He won his second straight Silver Slugger trophy as the best hitter among big-league shortstops. All things considered, he had a terrific season.

Still, the 24-year-old Bogaerts has spent three-plus seasons in the major leagues fighting a tendency to force the ball to one field or the other. Last season was no exception. He hit just .253 with a .317 on-base percentage in the second half. Unleashing the last bit of untapped potential so many see in him requires him to avoid the slumps that come when he loses trust in his swing.

When Bogaerts tries too hard to go the other way, he often finds himself diving forward with his entire body and tied up by pitches in on his hands. When he tries too hard to pull the ball, he can’t reach pitches on the outside corner.

“With Xander, he’s got the ability to use the whole field,” Rodriguez said. “He’s good when he’s middle-other way, when he’s up the middle. That’s when he’s good. You saw last year how good he was middle-in. They were throwing him middle-in, and he was getting the head out. Because of that, sometimes he got away from that part that he was really good at. With him, we’re going to continue to preach staying in the big part of the field. Now he knows, with that ball inside, he can get to it.”

“You just have to start up the middle,” Bogaerts said. “If you start up the middle, you can hit in and away. Sometimes I think too much away, and when they throw me in, all I can do is a little jam shot. If you think middle and keep your body straight, you see it and recognize – and boom.”

Sometimes the challenge for Bogaerts is mechanical. Late last season he found himself rocking back and forth too much, pulling his upper body away from the plate and then moving forward as the ball was pitched, interfering with the action of his swing.

One of his goals this spring is to keep his upper body as still as possible before his swings begins.

Mostly, however, the challenge for Bogaerts is his trust in his own ability.

When Bogaerts cheats on a pitch, be it diving at the outer half or pulling toward the inner half, it’s a reflection of a bit of self-doubt – doubt that he can get to the pitch by reading and reacting. What Rodriguez saw in late September was a hitter who could read and react.

In the same game at Yankee Stadium in which Bogaerts hit a line-drive single to right field, he also ripped a double down the left-field line.

He can do it all if he lets his hands and body work the way they can.

“After you do what you do and you trust what you’ve done, you don’t have to worry about mechanics,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t have to worry about nothing else.”