McAdam: Problems right at the start

191542.jpg

McAdam: Problems right at the start

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Remember when everyone thought the Red Sox' primary problem was producing with runners in scoring position?

Seems almost quaint now.

Actually, as was painfully obvious Monday night, the real issue is starting pitching.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's stinker Monday night against the Tampa Bay Rays would seem to validate that. Matsuzaka labored through the first two innings, couldn't retire a hitter in the third, and was gone after allowing seven runs on eight hits. The same Rays who had scored just 11 runs in eight previous losses topped that figure last night by the sixth.

Nation Station: Nine Dice-K numbers to ponder

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon stacked his lineup with left-hander hitters -- between nautral lefties and switch-hitters, he had just one right-hander, B.J. Upton, in his batting order -- in the hopes of gaining an edge on Matsuzaka.

But left, right . . . it didn't seem to matter.

"We love when guys throw strikes," rued Terry Francona. "But there were balls that were middle-middle for seven straight hitters."

The evening constituted Matsuzaka's shortest start since April 14, 2009 in Oakland, after which, it's worth mentioning, he was placed on the disabled list because of shoulder weakness.

(For the record, Francona insisted that Matsuzaka is healthy and there are no physical issues.)

The beating eliminated any hint of momentum the Red Sox had gained the night before with Josh Beckett's brilliant effort against the Yankees. Suddenly, the Sox' first series win of the season seemed very long ago.

And that's the issue with the team's poor starting pitching. Without solid outings from the rotation, a winning streak -- or a stretch in which the Sox make forward progress -- seems almost unimaginable.

Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher, goes one of baseball's oldest bromides. But for now, momentum for the Red Sox is non-existent.

After two full turns through the starting rotation, they have exactly two quality starts. Their collective starters' ERA sits at 7.24; take away Beckett's effort Sunday against New York and Lester's all-for-naught effort in the road trip finale in Cleveland, and the starters' ERA soars to 10.25.

The offense still hasn't righted itself completely, either. On Monday night the team stranded 11 more baserunners, bringing their total in the last two games to a staggering 27. The Sox continue to hit below .200 with runners in scoring position.

But in 10 games so far, the Sox have scored five runs three times and still lost. In precisely half the games, they've managed four or more runs -- and lost, anyway.

On Monday night, the frustration was evident in the clubhouse after the eighth loss in 10 tries. Matsuzaka sat, still in uniform, staring into his locker for nearly 25 minutes after the loss, seemingly shell-shocked, invoking memories of a similar postgame meltdown following a poor outing in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland in his first season with the Sox.

Per usual, he offered precious little insight about his failings, speaking only in the most obvious platitudes.

The inability of the team's starters to get into the middle innings on a consisent basis seemed to be wearing on others, too. Dustin Pedroia, normally one of the club's most upbeat members, looked over his shoulder as a crowd of reporters approached and said: "I've got nothing to say, guys."

And indeed, the Sox look lost.

There seems little doubt that the lineup, projected as one of the game's most fearsome, is coming around. Two slumping regulars provided clues that they're about to break out: Kevin Youkilis doubled in his final at-bat, one plate apperance after he had hit hit a vicious line drive which resulted in a double play, and Carl Crawford, matched against his former team, had a two-hit game.

But no such signs are visible for the rotation. Both Matsuzaka and John Lackey have been pasted in their two starts, and newly-extended Clay Buchholz,while not quite as bad, has also been hit hard both times.

Two quality starts in 10 tries is not going to lift the Sox from the division's basement.

For now, expect no drastic shakeups in the rotation. The Sox must hope that Matsuzaka can correct his issues on the side and keep his team in the game more times than not -- a modest enough goal, to be sure, but reasonable for a No. 5 starter, regardless of international pedigree and salary.

There are options beyond Matsuzaka, including Alfredo Aceves, who turned in 2 23 innings of hitless relief, and more intriguingly, Felix Doubront, whose spring was interruped with elbow tightness.

But once the Sox yank Matsuzaka from the rotation, he becomes dead weight. It's hard to envision him being productive out of the bullpen.

And yet, surely, the Sox can't let this continue for much longer. While the Yankees' lineup has bailed out some below-average starts from their equally uncertain rotation, the Red Sox haven't had that luxury.

Even if the hitters begin producing as expected, the season is too long to fully rely on one component to continually compensate for the failings of another.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Jones-Molina WBC spat is a clash of cultures . . . and that's great

wbc-adam-jones-032417x.jpg

Jones-Molina WBC spat is a clash of cultures . . . and that's great

The Adam Jones-Yadier Molina verbal skirmish is as predictable as it is annoying.

Was every cultural nuance for the 16 World Baseball Classic teams explained in a booklet the players had to memorize before the tournament?

No? Then it’s amazing there weren’t more moments like this.

Jones, the Orioles outfielder, said Team USA's championship game win over Puerto Rico was motivated by Puerto Rico's choice to plan a post-tournament parade for the team before the final game.

As Jones was raised, parades in pro sports are for championship teams. Red Sox fans are likely aware of this.

As Jones was raised, discussing a parade before a title is secured suggests overconfidence. Rex Ryan fans are likely aware of this.

After an 8-0 win for the U.S., Jones revealed the parade was used as bulletin-board material.

"Before the game, we got a note that there was some championship shirts made -- we didn't make 'em -- and a flight [arranged],” Jones said. “That didn't sit well with us. And a parade -- it didn't sit well with us."

But apparently, Jones didn't know the full context of the parade. It was reportedly planned regardless of whether Puerto Rico won.

One Team USA teammate of Jones whom CSNNE spoke with didn't believe that, however.

"It was called a champions parade that got turned into a celebration parade once they lost," the player said. "I think they just don't like getting called out by Jones, but all Jones did was tell exactly what happened."

Jones’ comments weren’t received well.

Puerto Rico's going through a trying time, a recession, and the entire island rallied behind the team.

“Adam Jones . . . is talking about things he doesn't know about," Molina told ESPN’s Marly Rivera. "He really has to get informed because he shouldn't have said those comments, let alone in public and mocking the way [preparations] were made.”

No one should be upset Jones explained what he was thinking.

Jones actually asked MLB Network host Greg Amsinger, “Should I tell the truth?”

Yes. It’s better than lying.

Look at the reactions across the WBC: the bat flips, the raw emotion. Honesty conveyed via body language.

People in the U.S. are starting to accept and crave those reactions. The WBC helped promote a basic idea: let people be themselves.

Jones said what was on his mind. We can’t celebrate bat flips and then say Jones should keep his mouth shut.

But there's an unreasonable expectation being placed on Jones here.

He heard about a parade -- which is to say, a subject he wouldn't normally think twice about or investigate before a championship baseball game.

Plus, it gave him motivation.

Why is Jones, or anyone with Team USA, more responsible for gaining an advance understanding of Puerto Rico’s parade-planning conventions -- we're talking about parade planning! -- than Puerto Rico is responsible for keeping U.S. norms in mind when making and/or talking about those plans?

No one involved here was thinking about the other’s perception or expectation. It's impossible to always do so.

But that’s how these moments develop: what’s obvious to one party is outlandish to the other.

Now Molina, Puerto Rico's catcher, wants an apology.

"He has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people," Molina told ESPN. "Obviously, you wanted to win; he didn't know what this means to [our] people."

Jones can clear the air with an apology, but he doesn't owe one. And he definitely doesn't owe one after Molina took it a step further.

"I'm sending a message to [Jones], saying, 'Look at this, right now you're in spring training working out, and we're with our people, with our silver medals,' " Molina said. "You're in spring training and you're working . . . you have no idea how to celebrate your honors, you don't know what it means.”

Team USA had no parade. Manager Jim Leyland made clear how the U.S. was celebrating, by recognizing those serving the country.

The silver lining here is how much attention the WBC has drawn, and how much conversation it can drive. People care, a great sign for the sport -- and its potential to foster better understanding across cultures.

Internationally, the sport is on parade.

Wright extends scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings in Red Sox' 10-7 win over Pirates

Wright extends scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings in Red Sox' 10-7 win over Pirates

The angst surrounding the David Price- and (possibly) Drew Pomeranz-less Red Sox starting rotation may have eased a little -- or a lot -- on Thursday.

Steven Wright extended his string of scoreless spring-training innings to 9 1/3 by blanking the Pirates for 4 1/3 innings in his third spring-traing start, leading the Sox to a 10-7 victory over the Pirates at SkyBlue Park.

Red Sox-Pirates box score

Wright allowed two hits -- the only two hits he's allowed this spring -- with one walk and three strikeouts.

Several of his pitching brethren, notably Heath Hembree and Robbie Ross Jr., didn't fare nearly as well. (See box score above.) But the Sox -- using what may be their regular-season batting order for the first time -- bailed them out with a 16-hit attack, led by Dustin Pedroia (3-for-3, now hitting ,500 for the spring). Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and, yes, Pablo Sandoval each added two hits. Sandoval also drove in three runs and is now hitting .362.

Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-4 in his return to the Sox from the World Baseball Classic.