Bullpen adds more successful innings to workload

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Bullpen adds more successful innings to workload

BOSTON Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine gave his starting pitchers a vote of confidence after Thursday night's 83 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.

Perhaps that's all he can do, at this point. With Josh Beckett chased from the game in the third inning after allowing seven runs on seven hits and two walks, it made for another night of hefty relief work from the Red Sox bullpen.

Six-and-two-thirds innings, to be exact. Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Scott Atchison, Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves combined to allow just one Indians run after relieving Beckett. It marks the fourth time in the last seven games that the Red Sox bullpen has pitched more than six innings.

Red Sox relievers have now pitched 48.2 innings with a 1.66 ERA in nine games since the start of May. Since May 1, Red Sox starters have pitched just 42.1 innings.

"It's challenging every night," said Valentine. "And the relievers are doing a great job. They're getting ready. They're coming in throwing strikes, quality pitches. I tip my hat to them.

"I think when we start getting some consistent innings early in the game from the starters, things will look a lot better."

So Valentine can either pray that the offense decides to bust out and win some of these marathon bullpen affairs. Or, he can hope for what this team truly needs to have happen: his starting pitchers showing up on a more consistent basis.

Because right now, even after seeing the bullpen throw 6.2 more innings of work, the Red Sox are saying that they're not yet concerned about the heavy workload this early in the year.

"You have spurts where you get a lot of innings, and then you'll have spurts where the starters are lights out, throwing seven and eight innings, every time, and you're not getting as many innings," said reliever Scott Atchison after Thursday night's loss. "So no concern, really, there. I think everybody's feeling good and feeling strong. And we kind of got through the Kansas City trip all right, and I think everybody's ready to go.

"The starters have proven it too many times before," added Atchison. "So, we know they're going to pick it up, and get to throwing the ball well. And when that happens, everything should start rolling."

Atchison's has thrown a Major League-leading 22 relief innings, and Thursday's appearance marked his Major League-high seventh outing of at least two innings this season.

He himself has held opponents scoreless in his last seven appearances.

"When you come into those games, I think everybody's just trying to put up zeros and give us a chance to get back into the game a little bit," said Atchison after Thursday's loss. "We were able to do that a little bit tonight. Everybody threw great. I think Andrew Miller kind of set the tone from the get-go, when he came in, and we all just kind of followed suit."

"The 'pen's been doing great," said Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach. "They've been throwing the ball well. We've been asking them to do a lot here the last few weeks, and they've done a great job for us. We're fortunate that they've been throwing the ball so well."

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the relievers have been the only ones doing that.

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.