Three things we learned about the Red Sox on Monday

Three things we learned about the Red Sox on Monday
July 8, 2014, 12:45 pm
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1) Clay Buchholz is headed in the right direction.
     
Buchholz has now made three starts since his month-long exile in the minors and the results are obvious.
     
He continued to show improved command and feel for both his curveball and changeup -- essential parts of his repertoire that were largely absent for the first two months of this season.
     
Instead of having hitters sit on his reduced fastball, which happened in the first dozen or so starts, Buchholz can use his other pitches to set up hitters and keep them off balance.
     
Another encouraging sign: Buchholz got better as the game developed.
     
After he stumbled in the fourth -- allowing a double, a walk and a three-run back-breaking homer to Dayan Viciedo, all after two were out -- Buchholz shifted into another gear and retired the final 10 hitters he faced through the seventh inning. Six of those 10 outs were on strikeouts, evidence that Buchholz can still gets swings-and-misses.
     
Mechanically, Buchholz looks like a different pitcher than the one we saw in April and May -- able to consistently repeat his delivery and pitch with a far better tempo.
     
His turnaround is unlikely to be enough to put the Red Sox back into playoff contention; there are issues well beyond the starting rotation that have to be addressed for that to happen.
     
But at the very least, the Sox can be confident that they have a chance to win games started by Buchholz now, and that certainly couldn't be said as recently as five weeks ago.
    
Baby steps, indeed.

    
2) Some teams can't hit good pitching. The Red Sox have a bigger problem.
     
This is no knock on Scott Carroll, who executed his game plan, kept the ball down in the strike zone and pitched efficiently over 6 2/3 innings.
     
But Carroll did come into Monday's game with a 5.05 ERA and an opponents batting average over .300.
     
Carroll continued a disturbing trend that has seen the Red Sox rendered punchless against the most mediocre of starters. It happened 10 days ago in New York when the immortal Vidal Nuno handcuffed them and helped shut them out.
     
It's one thing to lose to Max Scherzer or Felix Hernandez or Chris Sale, the latter of whom the Sox will face Wednesday night.
     
But it's pretty deflating that the team is being shut down -- and out -- at times by starters who are barely retaining their spots in their respective rotations.
     
John Farrell maintained after Monday's 4-0 loss to Carroll that Red Sox hitters had game plans in their approach and did their best to execute them. But it sure didn't look it. Beyond the two singles they mustered, the Sox got only three balls into the outfield all night.
     
And despite the successful comeback Sunday from a 6-1 deficit against the Orioles, there are nights -- like Monday -- in which a 3-0 lead seems completely insurmountable.
     
If you're counting, Monday marked the 28th time in 89 games -- or, about once every three games -- that the Sox have been held to two runs or fewer. And as Monday reminded us, many of those didn't come against aces or front-line starters.

     
3) David Ortiz has to look a little more interested.
     
Maybe the John Lackey-Buck Showalter War of Words from the weekend and the ensuing fallout which roped in Ortiz had the DH in a bad mood Monday. Ortiz voiced his displeasure to WEEI.com that he didn't appreciate some hosts on the MLB Network suggesting that he got a "free pass'' after appearing on the 2003 provisional list during PED testing, and said so with some choice and profane thoughts.
     
Ortiz may have had a right to be frustrated by the verbal shrapnel that was flying around. Ortiz's presence on the list is well-known and he consistently hears steroid taunts in New York and around other ballparks, so it's difficult to make the case that he got a "free pass.'' There were no penalties to be assessed for the provisional testing, but Ortiz got plenty embarrassed when his name was leaked to the New York Times a few years back.
     
But whatever the reason or motivation, it seemed like the last place Ortiz wanted to be was at the ballpark Monday night. In a second-inning groundout to the right side, he didn't reach halfway to first base before making a right turn toward the dugout.
     
Later in the game, in his third at-bat, he never let go of the bat after another infield groundout and seemed disinterested in completing his jog to first base.
     
Look: no one is expecting Ortiz to invoke comparisons to Pete Rose while busting down the line on routine groundouts. But everyone -- fans and teammates alike -- are due more effort than the slow jog and peel-off Ortiz provided a couple times Monday night.