Sox' bats still slumping, but pitching in fine form

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Sox' bats still slumping, but pitching in fine form

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif -- They're still not hitting, as evidenced by the fact that four players in the starting lineup Friday came into the game hitting below .200.

As a team, they continue to falter with runners in scoring position, going just 5-for-38 in such situations in the four games to date on the road trip.

Behind the plate, they must choose between a catcher who is 1-for-23 at the plate or his anointed replacement, who is having great difficulty throwing, and, Friday night at least, simply catching the ball.

But say this for the resurgent Red Sox: their starting pitching is in order. Finally. And that, as much as anything, is the reason they have gone 6-1 since last Saturday, saving themselves from the yawning hole they dug in the first two weeks.

Jon Lester tossed six shutout innings Friday before the Angels begin chipping away at the Boston bullpen with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth for a 4-3 Red Sox win.

In the last seven games, Red Sox starters have a collective 1.17 ERA, good enough to overcome all the other issues that continue to plague the team.

"Remember back on the homestand,'' said Terry Francona, "somebody asked me what's the best way to get it going and I said, 'A time or two through the rotation, where they give us a chance every night.' And that's exactly what's happened.''

Lester had difficulty putting Angels hitters away at times, resulting in a lot of deep counts, a lot of foul balls, and, as a result, a high pitch count.

"I just didn't get that early contact that we needed,'' lamented Lester, 2-1. "But it was good that we went back and forth and didn't allow them to sit one side when they were swinging like they were.''

On a night when the Red Sox would have liked him to go deeper -- he was done after 111 pitches in just six innings -- thanks to a depleted bullpen, Lester was still good enough.

He fanned eight and walked just two and allowed only four hits.

Lester senses the rotation building momentum and feeding off one another, one quality start follwing another.

"The first two weeks of the season,'' he said, "it's kind of uncommon for everybody to come out (and click), throwing the lights out of the ball. It took us two turns, three turns to get where we're feeling comfortable.

"You can prepare all off-season, all spring training for the regular season but when those lights go on and it's for real, it's different. We're still in the building phase of the season. We're still in uncharted territory, where guys are throwing 110, 120 pitches. There's still some things to go on to body-wise to build up, but, yeah, I think the rotation has gotten until a little bit of a rhythm and we can build off each other's starts.

Gone are the days early in the season when the Sox would fall behind early, putting pressure on hitters to make up the deficits in a hurry and the relievers, who had to come into games far earlier than they would like.

But starting with Josh Beckett's effort against Toronto last Saturday, the pitching has covered up the multitude of sins. Correspondingly, the hitters don't have to overcome early leads and the bullpen isn't being taxed in the early and middle innings.

"Guys just build off each other,'' said Lester. "Just like hitters build off an inning. A guy gets a hit and you build off that; (it's the same with pitchers).''

With the hitters not hitting and the catcher having difficulty catching the burden has fallen on the pitchers. For the last week, they've shouldered it just fine.

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

Moreland homers again, Red Sox tag A's to avoid four-game sweep

Moreland homers again, Red Sox tag A's to avoid four-game sweep

OAKLAND, Calif. - A five-run ninth inning for the Red Sox that lasted more than a half-hour derailed any chance Eduardo Rodriguez had of getting his first career complete game.

Not that the left-hander was complaining.

After a bitter loss to Oakland a year ago when he allowed just one hit over eight innings, Rodriguez was more than happy with the way things turned out.

Rodriguez earned his second straight win, Mitch Moreland homered in his third consecutive game and Boston beat the Oakland Athletics 12-3 on Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep.

"I wanted to go back out there but they hit the ball pretty good in that inning and I know I had to get out of the game," Rodriguez said about the long wait. "I'll take it because we score more runs, I have a chance to win. If every inning's like that, I'll get out of the game after five."

Rodriguez (3-1) allowed three runs over eight innings. He struck out eight, walked one and retired 14 of his final 15 batters.

"Where he was with the pitch count, it'd be nice for him to go out there for the ninth inning given where he was and how well he was throwing the baseball," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "But at that point you're up nine, probably about a 35-minute inning, didn't want to take any chances."

Hanley Ramirez and Christian Vazquez had three hits apiece to power a Red Sox lineup that tallied 15 hits. Every player in Boston's starting lineup had at least one hit, and eight of the nine drove in runs.

Chad Pinder homered and drove in two runs for Oakland.

Boston, which hasn't been swept in a four-game series since July 2015, trailed 3-2 before scoring 10 runs over the final five innings.

"It felt we had them on the run a little bit," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They get the lead and then we come back and take the lead again and you feel pretty good. But they were pretty persistent today."

Pinder went deep in the fourth, his fourth home run in eight games and fifth overall.

The A's committed three errors, giving them a major league-leading 42.

BRADLEY'S DEFENSIVE GEMS

Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts gave the A's trouble with his running and defense. Betts scored twice from first base and also made a pair of strong defensive plays. He made a sliding catch on Mark Canha's sinking liner in the eighth and then slammed into the wall after catching Khris' Davis fly to end the inning.

"This place during the daytime plays very difficult," Farrell said. "What Mookie was able to do a couple times in right field, those aren't easy plays. To be able to stay with it, go up against the wall a couple of times, we played very good outfield defense here today."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: Brock Holt continues to deal with lingering symptoms from vertigo and isn't yet ready to come off the disabled list, according to Farrell. Likewise, Boston plans to keep third baseman Pablo Sandoval in the minors to get consistent at-bats while recovering from a right knee sprain. ... Farrell said LHP Drew Pomeranz, who took the loss Saturday, will start against Texas on Thursday.

Athletics: Yonder Alonso (sore left knee) sat out his fourth straight game but could be back in the lineup Tuesday when Oakland begins a two-game series against Miami. ... Sean Doolittle (strained left shoulder) threw on flat ground before making 15 pitches off the mound. The plan is for the former closer to throw 25 pitches on Wednesday. ... Melvin said the team has applied for an extension on Chris Bassitt's rehab assignment. Bassitt underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello (2-5) faces Texas on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series at Fenway Park. Porcello has lost three of his last four decisions.

Athletics: Following an off day, RHP Jesse Hahn (1-3) starts against Miami on Tuesday at the Coliseum. Hahn leads the majors in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings at 0.19.