BOSTON Back-to-back off-days in the baseball schedule are hard to come by. The Red Sox hope the break will be exactly what they need, putting the first 11 games of the season in the rear-view mirror and restarting their season with better results. The break also allows manager Terry Francona to shuffle his starting rotation.
The Sox pitching staff is at the bottom, looking up at all 29 other Major League teams with a 6.77 ERA. It's tied with three other teams for fewest quality starts with just three -- two from Jon Lester and one by Josh Beckett.
Red Sox pitchers have allowed opponents to hit .275 against them, 25th overall. They have allowed 21 home runs, most in baseball. The starters have a combined ERA of 6.83, with only Beckett and John Lackey recording wins.
The bullpen which had a better ERA than only Kansas City and Baltimore in the American League last season and which was supposed to have been upgraded for this season has an ERA of 6.69, worst in baseball.
I dont think anybodys really worried about it right now, Tim Wakefield said. Were only 11 games into the season. Id rather have a streak like this happen now than in September when were in the heat of the pennant race.
But for Curt Young, who is in his first season as pitching coach with the Red Sox after serving in the same role for seven seasons with the As, it hasnt been the start hed hoped for.
You take it personal as a pitching coach, said Young, who turns 51 on Saturday. When your group of guys arent doing what you expect on a consistent basis, youre always looking for ways to help each individual and help the entire staff.
Youre always looking for consistency from everybody, and thats really what weve been looking for, really from the entire staff. So once we get to the point where everybodys throwing the baseball good, being consistent, then you feel like you get to a point where you want to be as an entire staff.
With his pitchers struggling, the one primary message Young tries to delivers is to maintain consistency.
You got to stay with whats going to be successful, and thats a lot of strikes, a lot of quality strikes, Young said. Getting ahead in the count, dont give in when youre behind in the count. The things that I think all these guys know work and I know works, and you got to stay with the routines.
Wakefield has worked with his share of pitching coaches in his 19-season career. What does he look for in a pitching coach?
Somebody thats going to be able to step in and not be afraid to be more proactive than reactive, Wakefield said. Dont wait till things get really, really bad before something is said, and I think hes that way.
In Oakland, for the most part, Young had a relatively young staff to lead. With the Sox, hes dealing mostly with a group of veterans and some younger pitchers. But, he takes the same approach.
Just the fundamental things in pitching work, Young said. Whether youre young, old, hard thrower, soft thrower. Its really the certain things you have to do that are going to help you be successful in your game. You keep stressing that because you know that works no matter whos pitching.
I think hes the easiest guy in the world to talk to, said Francona. Hes got that quiet confidence and real easy demeanor. All the things you heard the pitchers at Oakland talk about him, you could kind of see why thats true. When he talks to you he just talks to you and pitching -- its kind of like when hitting coach Dave Magadan talks hitting -- things he says seem so common sense to him and then when you walk away you think wow that makes a lot of sense. He doesnt miss too much during a game either.
The staffs slow start wont cause Young or Francona to make any rash decisions.
He won't panic either, Francona said. We all certainly want to do our jobs the best we can but theres a reason hes here and we think a lot of this guy.
With two days without games, Francona and Young reworked the starting rotation. Lackeys third start will be pushed back to Tuesday in Oakland, as the Sox hope to capitalize on his success in Oakland. In 16 starts there, Lackey has a record of 8-4, with a 2.92 ERA. Although he has one of the teams two wins, he has yet to turn in a good performance. He has allowed 15 earned runs in 8 23 innings, for a 15.58 ERA. On April 8 against the Yankees, he allowed at least one run in each of his five innings. Young, who was familiar with Lackey from their shared time in the AL West, said he wouldnt have Lackey working on anything specific before his next start.
Im sure hes not real happy about his start to the season, Young said. The type of pitcher he is, hes used to dominating, used to getting people out, used to being the guy who gives his team a chance to win every game. And thats what hes going to get back to doing.
Johns got stuff. Its just been about quality location in the strike zone. Hes a guy thats going to throw a lot of strikes. Command is what makes guys good and its going to make him good.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, though, has once again confounded observers. His latest outing was one of his worst in a Red Sox uniform, lasting just two innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits and two walks. In the second inning, he allowed the first seven batters to reach base before he could record an out.
Just location, Young said of Matsuzakas issues. When balls are in the middle of the plate and up, you give the hitter a better chance. He was aggressive. He was a strike-thrower, which I love to see. Its just that true command in the strike zone is what were going to work on.
Young said communication with Matsuzaka has not been a problem.
Hes been great, Young said. Hes been great. Weve actually had some conversations without Matsuzakas interpreter and I think hes got all the pitching terms down, which is good for me. Its good just to be able to talk one on one. I think he definitely understands the conversation more than him coming back to me and explaining what he likes to do.
There has been speculation that perhaps the pitchers, Young, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is taking on full-time catching duties for the first time, have not quite gotten in sync yet.
Its a team game, said Clay Buchholz. Everybodys got to be on the same page, and work together and score the runs on offense. Pitchers and catchers have to be on the same page as far as the pitch sequence. And whenever that picks up I think the defensive guys in the infield and outfield will be more ready for balls hit to them. So, I think its just a lot of little things that we have to put together still, and once we do get all those things together I think everything will be fine.
Wakefield had a much more succinct reaction when it was suggested that the pitching staff has not gotten on the same page yet.
No, he said. No, I disagree with that. Were all grown-ups. We all know how to pitch.
There are some signs that things are starting to get better for Youngs pitchers. In two of the last three games, Beckett and Lester each delivered quality starts, with Beckett turning in a performance against the Yankees that was reminiscent of the vintage Beckett who had been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, those two gems sandwiched the stinker from Matsuzaka.
In Becketts outing, Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth inning, needing just 12 pitches while recording two strikeouts. In Lesters game, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks each pitched scoreless innings.
This is a group of guys that can get on a roll, Young said. You can see that. Its guys that really, Ive said, are all considered aces of the staff and when theyre all throwing the ball we can go through a couple of cycles where everybody dominates. Were always looking for consistency, and the more consistent everybody is, were going to have a chance to win every single night.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen