First Pitch: Red Sox offense has lost its grip

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First Pitch: Red Sox offense has lost its grip

OAKLAND -- Cody Ross, surveying the carnage in the wake of a hugely disappointing road trip, let out an audible sigh when he was asked about the underperforming Red Sox lineup.
The same lineup that scored a grand total of 14 runs in seven games.
The same lineup that hit a not-so-robust .200 (48-for-240) for the trip.
The same lineup that was a brutal .114 (5-for-44) in the last seven games.
Yes, that one.
The same one, by the way, that is still ranked second in the American League in runs scored, third in the league in slugging and first in extra-base hits.
"I mean . . . I don't know . . . there's really no words for it,'' concluded Ross after Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Oakland, which sent the Sox back home with a 2-5 mark in the seven games against the A's and Seattle Mariners. "That's baseball.''
It's just not very good baseball on the part of the Red Sox.
In the seven games out west, the Red Sox offense went south. Only once did the team score more than two runs in any one game. Until the road-trip finale, only one player had more one RBI (Jarrod Saltalamacchia).
The Sox managed seven homers on the trip, but tellingly, six of them came with the bases empty.
"Our offense has just been that terrible,'' said Ross. "There's no need to sugarcoat it. It sucked, basically.''
Actually, the trip continued a season-long pattern. The Sox have the second-most runs in the game as a team and when the trip began had the second-biggest run differential of any team in the American League.
But that speaks to the Sox' habit of piling on in one-sided games. Twelve times they've scored double figures in runs.
In lower-scoring games, however, they seem unable to come up with the necessary hit when it's needed the most. When the Sox score four runs or fewer, they're a lowly 7-35.
Certainly, no blame can be assigned to the pitching on the trip. In the seven games, the Red Sox got quality starts six times. And even when they didn't -- Daisuke Matsuzaka's one-inning-plus implosion Monday night -- they got seven innings of one-run relief from the bullpen, keeping the game within reach.
Not that the offense took advantage.
"As good as our offense is,'' said Ross, "to get three-hit Wednesday . . . I think we scored all of eight runs (actually, 14) for the road trip. That's crazy. We've scored eight runs in an inning before and against really good teams. Out here we played two teams that are sub-.500 and got the crap beat out of us.''
The culprits were eveerywhere. Three players -- Saltalamacchia, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia -- combined to knock in almost half (six) of the 14 runs for the tripl
Adrian Gonzalez, whom the Sox are paying handsomely to produce runs, didn't drive home a single run until he singled home Ortiz in the sixth inning of the final game on the trip.
"We're all pressing,'' acknowledged Ross. "We're all trying to get something going. We're not getting that big hit when we need it. We can't seem to push anything across.''
Perhaps the Yankees, coming to town for a four-game set which will wrap up the first half, are just the tonic. The Yanks are without their two best starters (CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) and their mere presence may create some energy and excitement at Fenway, enough to rouse the slumbering Boston attack.
That's the hope, from the Red Sox' perspective, anyway. Nothing else seemed to work on the road, including and especially their bats.

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is the kind of season it has been for Clay Buchholz:

A little more than a month ago, he was merely taking up space on the Red Sox roster, having been summarily removed from the rotation after three months of poor outings.

He was in the bullpen, but the Sox were loathe to use him. Asked, memorably, why Buchholz hadn't been the choice to serve as a long reliever in a game in which the starter departed early, John Farrell candidly noted, in not so many words, that because the Sox still had a chance to win the game, Buchholz didn't make sense as an option.

Ouch.

But slowly, Buchholz became more effective in his new relief role. And when injuries struck the rotation, Buchholz got himself three cameo starts, during which he posted a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, topped by Tuesday's beauty -- 6 1/3 innings, one run allowed, nine strikeouts recorded.

Just as Buchholz has straightened out, however, Red Sox starters are suddenly stacked up like jets waiting for clearance to land at Logan Airport. Steven Wright returns from a brief DL stint Friday, and Eduardo Rodriguez is not far behind.

When he pitched poorly, the Red Sox didn't have any other options.

When he pitched well, the Red Sox have plenty of other choices.

So, now what?

"As far as Clay goes,'' said John Farrell, "this will be, I'm sure, a conversation (had) within (the organization). But setting that aside, he's throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.''

That's indisputable.

But the question remains: In what capacity will he throw the ball in the near future?

There's been a suggestion to keep Buchholz in the rotation while moving Drew Pomeranz to the bullpen. That would give the Sox a dependable lefty in relief -- as opposed to, say, Fernando Abad -- while also serving the dual purpose of putting a governor on Pomeranz's climbing innings total.

Pomeranz, who has plenty of bullpen experience in the big leagues, has also thrown 140 1/3 innings this season, eclipsing his previous major league high by nearly 40.

But Pomeranz is 27, not 21. He's shown no signs of fatigue. To the contrary, he's 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. The Sox shouldn't mess with his success.

Instead, Buchholz should become one of the team's high-leverage set-up weapons, available in the seventh or eighth inning.

True, Buchholz doesn't have the swing-and-miss capability you'd prefer to have in the eighth inning, where the fewer balls put in play, the better off you are. But he can get lefties and righties out, and, pitching out of the stretch full-time, he's greatly improved his command.

Buchholz would remain the best option for a spot start if one of the five Red Sox starters faltered or got hurt. But the bullpen remains the best choice for him.

Ironic, isn't it? When he pitched poorly, he remained in the rotation for several months. Now that he's pitching superbly, he can't earn a permanent spot.

It's been that kind of season.

McAdam: Will this be Clay Buchholz's last start?

McAdam: Will this be Clay Buchholz's last start?

With Wright and Rodriguez set to return, Sean McAdam joins SNC to discuss whether Tuesday’s game against the Rays will be the last start for Clay Buchholz.