BALTIMORE -- Zach Stewart's second start was only marginally better than his first. And that meant it wasn't very good at all.
Stewart was rocked for five runs on seven hits in just 2 23 innings in the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles Sunday.
That wasn't quite as bad as his first outing, when he gave up nine runs on 10 hits in just three innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Aug. 29 -- but the improvement was minimal.
"A little rusty,'' offered Valentine of Stewart, who hadn't pitched since the International League playoffs on Sept. 12. "Before you knew it, it was five runs (on the scoreboard). He'll have better days, that's for sure.''
Stewart gave up three runs in the first. Then he allowed a leadoff homer to Chris Davis, and two more singles before he could get through the third.
"I didn't feel like I was very consistent,'' said Stewart, "and against a team like that, you have to be consistent. They're good and they showed what they can do. I felt like I threw some good pitches and when I kept the ball down, it was good. But I just didn't do that consistently enough.''
These two outings, of course, weren't exactly the impression that Stewart wanted to make.
"I'm just going to take all the mistakes -- and there were a lot of them -- and just work from there,'' said Stewart. "It's not good to go into the off-season on these two starts, but I felt like the last couple of starts in Pawtucket were good and I'm just going to build on that and go from there and try to improve on that.''
Cody Ross homered in the fourth, giving him 22 for the season. But just as valuable, according to Valentine, is Ross's every-day presence in the lineup and durability.
Ross missed exactly a month -- from May 19 to June 19 -- with a broken foot, but has otherwise played in 127 games. Only Dustin Pedroia and Mike Aviles played more among position players.
"He and Dustin have really been the only ones to go the post more often than everyone else,'' said Valentine. "That's very commendable. Cody's been a warrior. He's never asked out. He's been clutch. He's been fun to have on the team. He's a very good teammates. Cody knows the difference between right and wrong and that's a good leadership quality. I think a lot of guys can follow Cody's lead.''
The Sox have been out of contention for the better part of the last six weeks, but Ross remains a constant in the lineup.
"I've pretty much asked him every day (about his availability) and he's never even shied away from it. We need more like him -- people understand that his way is the best way.''
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was not in the starting lineup Sunday, is nonetheless a homer away from trying the club record for most homers in a season by a player whose primary position is at catcher.
Saltalamacchia hit his 25th homer Friday night. Carlton Fisk hit 26 in both 1973 and 1977.
"When you get that kind of offense from your catcher,'' said Valentine, "you can possibly get less offense from other positions (and survive). I think it's very valuable. The power is there. He just needs to do a little more with the other at-bats.
"A lot of his home run earlier in the season were real crucial home runs, real big. As a matter of fact, he hasn't had many where the game's been out of reach, as I remember.''
One problem for Saltalamacchia is his strikeout total. He's fanned 135 times in 395 at-bats. His selectivity could improve, too -- he's walked just 37 times for an on-base pecentage of .291.
But Valentine noticed other improvements in Saltalamacchia's game.
"He's not a one-dimensional guy anymore,'' said Valentine. "Going into the season, I think he had this rap where there were a lot of things he couldn't do. I think there's a lot of things he can do as a catcher. People thought he was (just) an offensive catcher. But I think he's great with the pitchers. He's thrown the ball efficiently; the numbers show that they stole a lot of bases against him, but a lot of them had nothing to do with him. And he's blocked the ball extremely well.''