Notes: Lester loses back-to-back games

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Notes: Lester loses back-to-back games

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jon Lester sports one of the best winning percentages of any active pitcher in the big leagues, so when he loses back-to-back starts, it's noteworthy.

Lester, who lost to the Yankees last Friday in the series opener with New York, suffered another defeat Wednesday, charged with four runs in 7 13 innings in the Sox' 5-2 setback to the Minnesota Twins.

A big issue for Lester was command -- or lack thereof. He issued five walks, tying a season high, and two of the five hitters he walked came around to score.

"I feel like I had pretty good stuff," said Lester, "but I wasn't able to locate. I gave them too many opportunities and when you do that, giving up runs is what happens."

Beyond the walks, Lester wasn't able to consistently locate his pitches within the strike zone where he wanted them. He left a pitch up to Jim Thome, his last batter of the night, and the lefty slugger drove it for a run-scoring double, giving the Twins a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"At times, I didn't know where the pitch was going," said Lester. "It was one of those grinders tonight and we came out on the other end.

"Free passes, free runners and more opportunities. It doesn't matter what team it is in the big leagues, if you give them more opportunities, they're going to score runs."

Lester labored from the first inning, when he gave up three hits, a walk and a run. He was more efficient from the second through the fifth, facing the minimum number of hitters in each of those four frames before control issues surfaced against in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

"He really picked it up after the first," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Just getting ahead of hitters was what we had trouble with. It's a feel thing. I think he did a great job fighting. On a positive note, he battled through it and still got us into the eighth inning."

When Terry Francona pinch-hit Dustin Pedroia for Josh Reddick in the top of the eighth inning, he decided to leave Pedroia in the game at second and shift Mike Aviles -- who had started at second in place of Pedroia, who had the night off -- to right field, rather that have Aviles remain at second with Darnell McDonald in right.

The move seemed to backfire in the bottom of the inning when Terry Plouffe lofted a fly ball to right with one out and two on.

Aviles, who hadn't played a game in the outfield as a pro until last Saturday, broke in for a second, then couldn't catch up as the ball landed behind him, on the warning track, for a run-scoring single.

As evidence of how catchable the ball appeared to be, both baserunners advanced only a base, believing that Aviles would make the play.

"It's a big outfield," said Francona. "That's part of the experience. I don't think it's so much the moving around as much as it is the depth position and things like that."

For the first time in more than two months, Pedroia was out of the starting lineup.

Having played every game since June 9, when he left a Red Sox-Yankees series in New York to have his ailing knee examined in Boston, he was given the night off . . . for a while, anyway. He did enter the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, and stayed in at second base.

Pedroia's season has turned around since that day off June 9. In that two-month stretch, covering 53 games prior to Wednesday night -- or almost exactly, one-third of the season -- Pedroia had a line of .376.447.664 an OPS of 1.071. He had 11 homers and 38 RBI in that span.

From June 15 through Tuesday, Pedroia led the majors in hits, on-base percentage, OPS and total bases.

"He needed it, though," said Francona. "I kept telling him the last few days he was going to sit in the series finale and he was fighting me. Then last night, after the game, he was like, 'Yeah, I'm tired.'

"It will be good for him. It's just hard to go back, once you go too far with a tired player. This will be good for him.

"He needs a little blow. He won't have the game hanging over his head and he can relax a little bit."

Despite Wednesday's loss, the Red Sox' road record of 35-22 (.614) is best in the American League and second-best in the majors, behind the Phillies' 36-22.

Take away the team's 0-7 start away from Fenway, and the Sox are an incredible 35-15 (.700) on the road.

"I know in the past," said Francona, "there were places that were tough for us. We didn't have a lot of team speed and we'd go into the Metrodome, Toronto . . . places like Tampa, or big fields and we'd get exposed a little bit.

"I think our bullpen has helped. On the road, if you don't have a deep bullpen, you're going to lose some games. I think guys like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers have helped us a ton there. And we're more athletic and faster than we used to be."

Outfielder J.D. Drew took 35 swings in the cage and will take batting practice on the field both Friday and Saturday in Seattle.

He'll be re-evalauted when the Sox return for a brief three- game homestand. It's possible that when the Sox leave for Kansas City next week for an eight-game road swing, Drew could go to Pawtucket and begin a rehab assignment.

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

Drellich: Pomeranz among reasons Red Sox pitching depth is so good

Drellich: Pomeranz among reasons Red Sox pitching depth is so good

BOSTON -- Drew Pomeranz’s first start in a Boston uniform of at least six innings and three hits or fewer came Wednesday night, 364 days after his first start with the Red Sox following a trade with the Padres last July.

The lefty’s consistency this season has been one of the most pleasant surprises, and ultimately a stabilizing force in the Boston rotation. The Red Sox are 9-2 in his last 11 starts and he’s gone at least six innings in six of his last seven now. His ERA in that span is 2.13.

"I had a good year last year, but I feel really good this year with all my pitches," Pomeranz said. "I feel really good with all my pitches on both sides of the plate, which is something I've never really had before. I've made some adjustments mechanically, where I am on the rubber and things. Just really tried to focus on pitching arm-side with everything, which I was always good on glove side. I think that has helped me put this string together."

The rotation is deep. Deep enough that the Sox are slotting in seven pitchers in a seven-game stretch. Somehow, there were eight starting pitchers on the Red Sox roster Tuesday. One of them, Brian Johnson, started in a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays that took 15 innings, and another, Hector Velazquez, finished it out in extras.

Both Johnson and Velazquez went to the minors on Wednesday when the Sox added Ben Taylor and Kyle Martin to the bullpen, the latter getting to the big leagues for the first time. 

But the contributions of Johnson and Velazquez on Tuesday, followed up by Pomeranz’s work on Wednesday, are indicative of an increasing strength for the 2017 Sox: not just the very top of the rotation, but its depth.

That depth, you’ll recall, was never assured. Far, far from it. 

David Price was injured at year’s start. Pomeranz’s health was in question to begin the year. 

Steven Wright was lost for the season. Velazquez’s first big league start looked bad. Kyle Kendrick’s time in the majors did not go well. Eduardo Rodriguez was lost for a month and a half because of a knee injury.

Yet the Red Sox entered Wednesday with the third-best rotation ERA in the American League, 4.09. Chris Sale and Price are as frightening a potential playoff one-two punch as you can find. 

There's a lot more going on.

“There’s always the adage you never have enough pitching and certainly when you start Brian Johnson, what’s he had, four major league starts in his career?” Pitching coach Carl Willis said before Johnson’s start Tuesday. “So, while there’s still a certain amount of inexperience there, we’ve seen the ability play out. We’ve seen him go out and throw a nine inning shutout here in Fenway Park. Hector Velazquez has stepped in a couple of situations and pitched very well his second time back with the club and Doug Fister is a guy who has had some very very good years. 

“And while he’s maybe not exactly the same guy he was six, seven years ago, he’s still a guy with four pitches and he understands how to pitch, how to change speeds. So you know, when you look at the front end with Sale, with Price throwing as he is, with Pomeranz throwing as he is now, getting Eddy back, it’s a very very talented group of guys that we feel very confident in.”

Price, somehow, is throwing harder this year than last.

“You know, I can’t tell you 100 percent the reason why,” Willis said. “I think some of it is his possibly attributed to when you have an injury, the rehab process and how the throwing is monitored and the strengthening factor of that rehab process is, I think, so much more intensified or detailed because you’re dealing with certain specific areas. 

“I really think, you know, it’s a byproduct of those things, and it’s been a pleasure to watch. Obviously, he was dominating on Sunday night in a game that we really needed a performance like that. It gives you. A lot of optimism going forward to see him throw the baseball like that.”

Porcello seems to have righted the ship, with a 3.31 ERA in his last five starts.

“I do [think he’s turned a corner],” Willis said. “I felt for a while that he was close, that he was making small steps getting there. We’re seeing much better command now at the bottom of the strike zone, and that allows him to at times then elevate. But it starts with the bottom of the zone, and I think he’s in a place right now, we’re starting to see that consistency of that.

"And when he does that, hey, he’s still a contact-oriented pitcher and there are going to be ground balls and there are going to be some hits. But that’s who he is, and he can be successful that way, as we’ve seen. And I think he’s at that point right now."

Throw in the healthy return of Rodriguez and the continued success of Pomeranz and extras like Fister, Johnson and Velazquez, the Red Sox have choices. Options.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski arguably took a risk when he dealt away, of all people, Clay Buchholz. Buchholz, of course, wound up needing surgery once he got to the Phillies.

But the Sox pitching situation felt far from comfortable to begin the year, for one reason or another. It's comfy now — about as comfy as can be, anyway. And Dombrowski and the Red Sox, from the medical staff to the coaching staff to the pitchers themselves, deserve credit for getting to this point.