McAdam: Starters digging Sox out of hole

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McAdam: Starters digging Sox out of hole

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They're still a game under .500 and even with their recent surge, remain closer to last place in the American League East than first.

But it's hard not to be impressed with the roll the Red Sox are on (8-1) and how quickly and dramatically they have pulled out of their early-season nosedive which, for a while, threatened to sabotage their season almost before it started.

On Sunday, the Sox finished off a sweep of the Los Angeles Angels -- their first four-game sweep here in 31 years --- with a 7-0 blanking of the Angels.

They outscored the Angels 20-5 and never once trailed in the series. If they're not fully back, they're certainly on their way.

"We're playing good baseball,'' said Adrian Gonzalez, who drove in the first run of the game and the last. "The pitching's doing great, the defense has been good, we're scoring runs . . . things have been going well here.

"I don't think we ever lost confidence. If anything, we were kind of wondering what was going on. But we're starting to play like we knew we were capable of playing all season long.''

The most dramatic turnaround, of course, has been with the starting rotation.

After John Lackey (2-2) held the Angels scoreless for eight innings, the starters' ERA over the last nine games is a microscopic 0.88. In that nine-game stretch, no starter has allowed more than two runs; in fact, four times, the starter has been unscored upon.

Since the 8-1 streak began, opposing hitters are batting just .159.

"It's been impressive,'' said Gonzalez. "They've been going out there and pitching seven or eight innings consistently and not giving up runs.''

The consecutive shutouts Saturday and Sunday to cap the sweep were the first back-to-black shutouts since 2007. And not since 2002 have the Red Sox had three starters in a row not allow a run.

"I don't know the numbers,'' said manager Terry Francona, ''but I get back to what I've been saying -- when we pitch like that, it's a good way to play the game.''

Because Lackey was able to go deep (Dan Wheeler pitched the ninth to complete the shutout), the Sox were able to stay away from their most important relievers -- Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon.

"That means on Tuesday, they're back to where (they should be in regards to being rested),'' said Francona.

There are signs, too, that the offense is starting to rumble to life. Sunday, they provided Lackey with three runs even before he took the mound. In the last nine games, they've scored 46 runs; in the first 12, they had managed just 47. In the first six games -- all losses -- they were either shut out or limited to a single run half the time.

Carl Crawford (single, homer) has hit safely in six of his last seven games and had multihit games in the last two. Jacoby Ellsbury has five hits and a walk since being returned to the top of the lineup three games ago.

Again, there are no congratulations in order for a team with big expectations to get within a game of the break-even mark. But it sure beats where they were 10 days ago, when the club was in an alarming freefall.

"We dug ourselves a hole,'' said Francona, "and now we're trying to dig out of it. It's kind of like a hitter with a low batting average, but is starting to feel better about himself. We're starting to do some things better.''

Most obviously on the mound.

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

Betts and Bradley Jr. combine for seven RBI, Red Sox roll to 9-2 win

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Betts and Bradley Jr. combine for seven RBI, Red Sox roll to 9-2 win

The Boston Red Sox put up six runs in the first inning and coasted to a 9-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.

Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. led the way for the Red Sox with four and three RBI respectfully. Both outfielders had two-run home runs in the Sox’ big first inning.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright gave up one earned run in four innings, his ERA for the spring is now 0.68.

The Red Sox are back in action again on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m when Rick Porcello makes his final spring training start against the Minnesota Twins.

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Infielder Marco Hernandez may make the Red Sox roster after all.

Fellow infielder Josh Rutledge, the presumptive 25th man on the Red Sox, suffered a left hamstring strain on Tuesday against the Pirates, according to reporters in Florida, including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

If Rutledge isn’t ready for opening day, Hernandez, a left-handed hitter, may have his crack. 

The question is whether the Sox would be comfortable without a right-handed bat to complement both Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland on the corners. Rutledge was going to give the Sox that right-handed look they sought. (When Hanley Ramirez's shoulder will be healthy enough to play first base is unclear, but isn't expected to be too long.)

Neither Rutledge nor Hernandez has played first base in the majors or minors.

A big-league rookie last year, Hernandez has done decently against lefties at the upper levels of the minors, hitting .328 vs. them at Triple-A Pawtucket last season in 67 at-bats. He hit .315 in 54 at-bats at Pawtucket, with a .318 average against them that season in 88 at-bats for Double-A Portland.

Rutledge is a Rule 5 draft pick who has to remain on the major league 25-man roster the whole season or the Sox risk losing him. Placement on the disabled list doesn’t affect his status unless he’s on the disabled list for a very lengthy time.

An alternative option is Steve Selsky, who has first-base experience, but he's already been optioned.