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ST. PETERSBURG, FLa. -- Not long ago, the Red Sox were repeatedly taking first-inning leads, often with multi-run innings.
These days, of course, it's the other way round. The Red Sox haven't scored a first-inning run since June 11, while the opposition is piling up the runs, with 22 scored in the last 15 games prior to Tuesday.
"Two weeks ago,'' said John Farrell, "we were talking about how much pressure it takes off (our) pitcher when you go out and score (in the first). We're living the other side of both of those right now.''
The Red Sox recognize the problem, but fixing isn't easy, namely because the issue is not the same for every starter.
The Sox are satisfied with their approach. What they have to change are the results.
"To go out and command the baseball from the start,'' said Farrell, "that's what we're all working toward getting better at. It's pretty clear where we need to improve.''
"Obviously, it makes it difficult for the offense,'' said pitching coach Carl Willis of the recent habit of falling behind. "to start off in a hole. It kind of sucks some energy out of the dugout when you're playing catch-up right away. (The pitchers) are aware of it. We're looking at everyone's routine. A couple of guys have really good, consistent routines.''
Willis said the Red Sox have examined everything, from pre-game routines and timing for warm-ups. So far, they haven't been able to discover any common factors.
"We've got to come out and throw better in that first inning,'' said David Price, who will start the series finale against his former team Wednesday afternoon. "It's setting the tone early. It's going out there and putting up a quick zero and giving all your defenders and your offense (the message), 'Alright, we've got it today. We don't have to go out and put up a 10-spot.'
"If we can go out there and put up early zeros, it takes a lot of the pressure off that offense.''
For now, it's something the Sox are focused on repairing.
"Baseball's a crazy game,'' said Willis. "Sometimes you go through periods and it just happens. That's not a good answer and that's not an excuse. We have to be better and they know that.''
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis didn't say that Eduardo Rodriguez was tipping his pitches again Monday.
Then again, he didn't have to.
The results -- nine runs on 11 hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays -- offered a hint. And, just for good measure, Willis all but said so Tuesday afternoon.
"It really goes back to consistency in (his) delivery,'' said Willis, "because with the inconsistencies -- I know it's no secret -- hitters know what's coming. He's worked on it extensively in bullpen sessions, dry work periods. He makes progress, shows the abilities to make those adjustments. However, when the game begins and his focus gears more toward attacking the hitter, the old habits resurface.
"It's not from lack of effort on his part. It's just a bit much to accomplish at the major league level, where hitters can look for inconsistencies and make adjustments more so that in the minors.''
Rodriguez knows what has to be done. But as recent history suggests, it's not an easy fix.
"It takes a lot of work. It does,'' said Willis. "Obviously, he's gone back to his old delivery that he's more accustomed to and comfortable with. I think there's a possibility that we're going to have to make an adjustment with his hands -- where he sets them and keeps them throughout his delivery, maybe eliminate some movement. And that's going to be something that would definitely be difficult to take place here.
"It's not easy, but certainly not impossible. He's a good athlete. He's an intelligent kid. He's aware. But it's the ability to maintain to make it a new habit so he doesn't have to think about it.''
How long Rodriguez takes to correct the flaws is unknown, making it difficult to estimate when he might return to the Red Sox rotation.
"I don't have an exact answer for that,'' said John Farrell. "That's going to be a start-by-start situation and (depends on) how he solidifies the adjustments that are requires. I don't have a timetable for how long it's going to be. . . But to suggest that this is going to be a one-start situation (at Pawtucket) would be a little aggressive.''
When news broke on Tuesday of Buddy Ryan's passing, it wasn't very long before the NFL community at large paid tribute to one of the most well-respected defensive minds in the history of the league.
Ryan, a longtime coordinator and head coach, leaves a legacy that includes two sons -- Rex and Rob -- who have carved out length careers spent on NFL sidelines. His legacy also includes a defensive scheme that confounded offenses, particularly in 1985, when the Bears '46' defense dominated all comers. With eight men in the box and just three defensive backs, Ryan's defense could be as confusing for quarterbacks as it was intimidating.
On the day of Ryan's passing, we can add to the list of Ryan rememberances a long quote from a Bill Belichick press conference back in 2012. The Patriots were getting ready to play Rex Ryan's Jets, but as the topic of conversation shifted away from the game itself and toward football philosophies, Belichick explained how Ryan's '46' defense changed the game, and where it can still be seen today.
(To see the video of the press conference, you can head here. It's a bit slow for the first six or seven minutes, but when Belichick is asked about the idea behind being a "game-plan offense" and which coaches inspired him to take that mindset into his own career, things start rolling. Belichick rattles off the names of those who influenced him, including Annapolis High coach Al Laramore, Phillips Andover's Steve Sorota, Navy coach Wayne Hardin, Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda and several others. He calls the list of coaches who educated him -- including his father, of course -- a "menagerie." If you're into those types of Belichick responses about football philosophy and his own personal football upbringing, it's a video that's worth your time.)
Here is Belichick's response to a question from Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard, then of the Boston Globe, concerning Ryan and his '46' scheme. A tip of the hat to Chris B. Brown of Smart Football for pointing out the quote on Twitter early Tuesday.
Q: You mentioned Buddy Ryan earlier. How come we don’t see more 46 defense? I’m not talking about for a full season – not everybody is the ’85 Bears, but in a one-game situation. Is it because of the quarterbacks and the shotgun?
BB: "A lot of the success that Buddy had with the 46 defense came in the ‘80s when there was a lot of two-back offense. It was one of the things that probably drove the two-back offense out. If you remember back in the ‘80s when Buddy was in Philadelphia, he had a lot of trouble with the Redskins and their one-back offense, a lot of trouble. There were a lot of mismatches of Art Monk and Gary Clark on the middle linebacker and stuff like that.
"I think the 46 was really originally built for two-back offenses, whether it be the red, brown, blue and the flat-back type offenses and eventually even the I-formation. I think it still has a lot of good application; a lot of teams use it in goal-line situations. They either use a version of it like a 5-3 or cover the guards and the center and however you want to quite fit the rest of it, but that principle you see a lot in goal-line, short yardage situations. You see it and some teams have it as part of their two-back defensive package.
"As it has gone to one-back and it’s gotten more spread out, if you’re playing that, it kind of forces you defensively to be in a one-linebacker set. You lose that second linebacker and depending on where the back lines up and what coverage you’re playing, then there’s some issues with that. If you’re in a one linebacker defense and you move the back over and the linebacker moves over then you’re kind of out-leveraged to the back side. If you don’t move him over, then you’re kind of out-leveraged when the back releases and that kind of thing.
"There are some issues there that, I’m not saying you can’t do it, but you have to work them out. In a two-back set, I’d say it was probably a lot cleaner and it always gave you an extra blitzer that was hard for the offense. Even if they seven-man protected on play-action, there was always an eighth guy there somewhere. You didn’t have to bring all eight; if you just brought the right one and they didn’t have him or somebody would have to have two guys and that creates some problems.
"I think that’s what Buddy, really, where the genius of that was. He had by formation a different combination and group of blitzes so depending on what formation you were in, then he ran a blitz that would attack that formation and then when you changed formations, then he would change blitzes. Now, plus the fact [he] had Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, [Otis] Wilson, [Wilbur] Marshall, that was a pretty good group there. You could have probably played a lot of things and that defense would have looked pretty good, especially when they put Hampton on the nose. That was pretty unblockable."