Pitching fails Red Sox on recent road trip

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Pitching fails Red Sox on recent road trip

OAKLAND -- The Red Sox run of futility isn't very hard to explain.

In losing six straight on this road trip with three games to play, the Red Sox have been outscored 33-5. In nearly every game, the starting pitching has been the culprit.

Such was the case Sunday as the Sox established their longest losing streak of the season with a lifeless 6-2 loss to the Oakland A's.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had attacked the strike zone with an aggressiveness he's seldom shown in his last outing, was back to his old tricks Sunday, picking at the corners of the strike zone.

He missed the strike zone too often, but sadly for the Red Sox, the same can't be said for the Oakland bats.

Two batters in, Seth Smith's home run to right with Coco Crisp aboard gave the A's a quick 2--0 lead. A solo homer by Stephen Drew in the second pushed the lead to 3-0 and two walks helped contribute to another two runs in the third.

It was 5-0 before you knew it.

This caused two problems. It once again put the onus on the offense to dig out from an early hole. In five of the six games on the road trip, the opponents have scored in the first inning. And in four of those five -- including Sunday -- they've scored multiple runs.

"We just don't have the firepower to come back," lamented Bobby Valentine.

Indeed, they don't. With two run-producing bats -- righthanded Will Middlebrooks and lefthanded David Ortiz -- likely gone for the rest of the season and Adrian Gonzalez, who led the team in RBI now in a Dodger uniform, the Sox lack muscle in the middle to make up any deficits.

The lineup Sunday featured just three players the Sox identified as regulars at the start of the season: second baseman Dustin Pedroia; outfielder Cody Ross; and Mike Aviles, who began the year as the starting shortstop but Sunday, served as the DH du jour in Ortiz's absence.

The rest are a collection of minor league journeyman -- Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez -- and young players who've yet to become established in the big leagues such as Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias.

Is it any wonder that the Sox have averaged just over two runs per contest in the six games to date?

"Obviously it's not easy," said Ross. "But we're professionals. We have to come back from being down. That's the name of the game. At the end of the day, we've got to score more than they do. We just have to keep fighting. It's unacceptable."

Beyond the stress being placed on the lineup, there's a negative impact on the bullpen, too, which, even with expanded rosters, is being asked to shoulder too much of the innings load day after day.

In the Oakland series alone, Red Sox relievers had to eat up 14 23 innings. The fact that four Red Sox pitchers from the bullpen combined for 4 13 shutout innings in relief of Matsuzaka is almost irrelevalant: there's a toll that shows up the following day when the bullpen is overworked.

"I'm really disappointed as a starter than I wasn't able to my job today," said Matsuzaka, who dropped to 1-4 with the defeat, "especially since I knew that I needed to pitch deeper into the games, knowing how much the bullpen has been used in recent games. I knew they needed a break and all I wanted to do today was pitch as long as I could."

That plan resulted in failure -- just like almost everything associated with the Red Sox these days.

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

BOSTON -- Of course, the Rangers' Mike Napoli didn't mind the idea of replacing David Ortiz. He loved playing in Boston.

There just was never much chatter that way last offseason, when Napoli was a free agent after his Indians took the Cubs to seven games in the World Series.

"I think my agent had maybe a small talk or something [with the Red Sox], but I don't think it ever would have happened," Napoli said Tuesday afternoon as he returned to Fenway Park with Texas. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I would have loved to come back. But, I mean, it all worked out. I'm glad to be where I'm at now. Because I knew everybody here [with the Rangers]. I didn't have to start over again."

Napoli played with the Rangers in 2011 and '12, and was traded by the Sox to Texas for the last few months of the 2015 season.

He was hopeful the Sox -- his team from 2013 to midseason 2015 -- would be among the clubs to come calling last winter.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

But he wasn't optimistic it was going to happen. And it didn't.

"To be honest with you . . . Cleveland was my first priority," he said. "I just had a World Series run [with the Indians] and we didn't win it. And then Texas was there [in the bidding, along with] Minnesota."

The Rangers wound up giving Napoli, 35, a one-year deal for 8.5 million with an $11 million club option for next season or a $2.5 million buyout. He's hitting just .188 entering Tuesday, a subpar figure, but has 10 home runs.

"We started off pretty slow, but winning 10 straight will help," Napoli said of the Rangers' recent tear. "[Winning] 11 of 12, we've been playing better. I think we kind of lost track of who we are. We got some guys struggling, still trying to find themselves and kind of got away from doing it together as a team, but we got back to doing that. It's been going pretty well."

Part of the World Series championship team of four years ago, Napoli loved being in Boston in 2013, and he enjoys being back now.

"What we were able to do in 2013, obviously, it's something I'l never forget and something I cherish," Napoli said. "I love coming back here to play."

When it was noted there's been so much turmoil since Napoli left -- the talk of Tuesday was manager John Farrell's job security -- he was unsurprised.

"You got to have thick skin to play here," Napoli said. "You're expected to win a championship every single year. But that's what I loved about playing here, is that people were on you. For me, I loved it. A lot of people probably couldn't do it.

"I knew it in my heart that I went out there and I played as hard as I possibly could every single time . . . I know you're not going to be perfect and live up to everyone."

Red Sox recall Sam Travis, send Velázquez back to Pawtucket

Red Sox recall Sam Travis, send Velázquez back to Pawtucket

BOSTON -- On the list of Red Sox problems, finding a platoon partner for Mitch Moreland at first base isn't high on the list. But the others -- third base, fifth starter -- aren't solvable at the moment, so the Sox turned to one they think they can solve.

Today they recalled Sam Travis from Pawtucket, most likely to provide relief for Moreland against left-handed pitching. Travis' path to the majors was delayed by a knee injury that cost him a good chunk of the 2016 season -- otherwise, odds are good he'd have been here by now -- but he signaled his readiness by recovering from a 5-for-36 start with a sizzling .344 average in 90 at-bats since April 22 that includes six doubles and three home runs. His OPS in that span is .909.

Most importantly, Travis crushes left-handed pitching. He's hit .358 (93-for-260) against them in his professional career, and is .414 (12-for-29) against them this year. 

Hector Velázquez was sent back to the PawSox to make room for Travis, ensuring another roster move later this week. After Kyle Kendrick's failed attempt to take control of the fifth spot in the starting rotation, Velázquez was called up and given a shot in Oakland last Thursday night. He allowed six earned runs over five innings, failing the test. And thus the search for a fifth starter -- at least until David Price returns -- continues.

Price will make a rehab start in Pawtucket tomorrow and could return to Boston after that, but the Sox will need a pitcher for Saturday's game against Seattle. Even if Price is cleared to return to Boston, he won't be able to pitch Saturday on two days' rest.