McAdam: As starters struggle, so do Sox

McAdam: As starters struggle, so do Sox
May 9, 2013, 10:15 am
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When the Red Sox streaked to the best record in baseball, it was because of their starting pitching.
     
Now that they've dropped five of their last six games, care to take a guess what the culprit has been?
     
The very same pitching staff, of course.
     
In the last week, the starter's ERA has been 6.88. The only quality start they received over that span was last Sunday when Jon Lester allowed three runs over six innings, but was outpitched by Texas starter Yu Darvish and saw the game lost by the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth.
     
In being swept by Texas and dropping two of three in a four-game series to Minnesota, Boston starters have reversed an early-season trend.
     
During the first couple of weeks of April, the Red Sox didn't have a single starting pitching allow more than three earned runs.
     
Lately, however, that's been far from the case, never more so than Wednesday night when rookie Allen Webster was crushed for four runs after just six batters had to come to the plate for the Twins.
     
The Sox had hoped that Webster would approximate the start he made 2 1/2 weeks ago when, in his major league debut, he kept the Kansas City Royals to three runs over six innings.
     
Instead, Webster was knocked around for six runs in just an inning and two-thirds. Worse, Felix Doubront, whose spot Webster temporarily assumed, was no better, shelled for eight runs in a long relief stint.
     
Shifting Doubront to relief, the Red Sox believed, would give them a stretched out arm while they deal with injuries to the back end of the bullpen, and might, they reasoned, also give him an opportunity to rebuild some of his velocity, which has mysteriously vanished in the last few outings.
     
But Doubront's fastball never topped 91 mph -- the same limit it showed last Saturday in the lefty's last start in Texas -- and now the Red Sox find themselves back at Sqaure One: Webster is back in Pawtucket, Doubront is back in the rotation, and the Red Sox are no closer to figuring out what ails their pitching.
     
Boston starters now rank seventh, in the middle of the American League, with a 3.77 ERA, which, as much as anything, helps explain how the Red Sox have gone from owning first place to having to share it with Baltimore.
     
As poor as Webster's outing was Thursday, at least it was understandable. As good as Webster is -- and will be -- young pitchers seldom consistently dominate when introduced to big league hitters. Webster's problems Wednesday night were timeworn: he couldn't locate, so not only did he exhibit wildness -- walking the second and third hitters he faced, with three walks among the first 10 hitters -- but he also consistently found himself in hitters' counts, with predictably ugly results.
     
Webster will return to Pawtucket, regain his confidence and contribute later this season. His stuff is too electric for that not to happen.
     
But in the short term, a bigger concern is Doubront, whose loss of velocity isn't so easily diagnosed.
     
Beyond the dip in his arm speed, both John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves identified Doubront's inability to put hitters away as a chief reason for his struggles Wednesday.
     
Doubront has to get better, and now that John Lackey has had three starts under his belt, he should be strong enough to give the Red Sox innings.
     
The turnaround, though, relies mostly on Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Lester is winless in his last three starts and Buchholz is coming off his worst start of the season, coming, as it did, days after allegation that he was doctoring the baseball.
     
(The rotation's top performer the last few weeks has been Ryan Dempster, who, after a mediocre debut, has a 2.66 ERA in his last half-dozen starts, during which he's just 2-2 thanks to poor run support).
     
The rest isn't a mystery. If Lester and Buchholz pitch the way they did in April, the rotation -- and by extension, the Red Sox will be fine. If they don't, they'll look more like the team that's fallen into a nosedive in the last week