McAdam: Sox starters looking for relief

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McAdam: Sox starters looking for relief

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

Bobby Jenks is set to return from the disabled list Tuesday, and if the prospect of a veteran reliever with a 9.35 ERA riding to the rescue doesn't seem like a significant development, think again.

Jenks hasn't pitched since May 1 due to a bout with biceps tendinitis, and in his absence, some interesting things took place with the Red Sox pitching staff.

Monday night, for example, for the third time this season and second since Jenks was shelved, manager Terry Francona allowed his starting pitcher -- in this case, Jon Lester -- to throw 125 or more pitches in a start.

That's a departure from Francona's usual approach.

Over the last few years, the only times the manager has allowed a pitcher to go that deep were when Lester and Clay Buchholz were finishing off no-hitters.

Now, in the span of just over a month, he's allowed it to happen three times.

As Francona pointed out Monday, part of his motivation was the fact that thanks to two upcoming off-days in the Red Sox' schedule -- Thursday and again Monday -- and the return of John Lackey to the rotation, Lester will be pitching next on seven days' rest, or, three more than usual.

Certainly, that influenced his decision to let Lester try to finish the sixth inning, even as his pitch count climbed to his highest total since his 2008 no-hitter against Kansas City. Francona knew that Lester would have plenty of time to rebound from Monday's outing.

But it's also true that the makeup of the bullpen was also a factor.

Without Jenks, much of the late-inning workload in the last month has fallen directly on Daniel Bard -- with mixed results. Despite an impressive WHIP of 0.974 and almost a strikeout per inning (25 in 25 23 innings), Bard's ERA is abnormally high at 3.54 and he's been charged with four losses.

Still, despite a half-dozen poor outings, Bard is still far more trustworthy than anyone else in the back end of the Boston bullpen not named Jonathan Papelbon.

Recall the May 21st game in which the Red Sox led 3-1 after seven innings against the Chicago Cubs. Francona didn't want to use Bard that night because of his recent workload and attempted to get to Papelbon in the ninth by deploying Matt Albers in the eighth.

Big mistake. Albers -- with some help from some sloppy defense behind him -- was charged with eight runs in a game that got away from the Sox.

Albers had been perfectly fine in middle-inning work, but just as some relievers find it a big jump to go from the eighth to closing responsibilities, others find that moving from middle relief to so-called "high leverage'' innings can be equally as daunting.

That's not a criticism of Albers. He's been very effective at a reasonable cost and stands as one of the better acquisitions of the off-season.

But in terms of stuff and experience, he's not Bard. And for that matter, he's not Jenks, a former closer, either.

Without Jenks to team with Bard, Francona has been pushing his starters, hoping to get them through seven -- when Bard can be asked to start a clean eighth -- or eight -- when he can avoid using Bard altogether.

Francona steadfastly refuses to burn out Bard, as evidenced by his reliance on Albers two weeks ago. But he hasn't been above pushing and extending his starters every great once in a while, especially when there is some built-in protection (read: bounce-back time) on the other end.

And tellingly, he has made every effort to scale back the pitch count on the Big Three of Lester, Buchholz and Josh Beckett in the outings immediately following.

After getting 125 pitches out of Beckett in Anaheim on April 21, for instance, he scaled back to just 92 pitched five days later in Baltimore.

Likewise, with Buchholz, who threw a 127 against Detroit on May 18, but threw just 94 in his follow-up outing.

It's uncertain, of course, how much the Sox are going to get out of Jenks and whether he can help Francona and pitching coach Curt Young spread the burden of late-inning, high-leverage situations. If Jenks pitches as he did in the first few weeks -- with scoreless appearances in five of his first six games -- the ganbit will be successful and both the starters and Bard himself will see their workload lessened at least somewhat.

The ability to use Jenks and Bard in some close games could be a huge advantage, allowing the duo to combine for six, seven or even eight outs as a bridge to Papelbon.

If, on the other hand, Jenks can't be counted upon, there will likely be fallout all over. Francona may again be forced to, periodically, push his starters deeper and GM Theo Epstein may have to accelerate his search for bullpen upgrades.

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

Quotes, notes and stars: Pomeranz has been a "mixed bag" so far

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Quotes, notes and stars: Pomeranz has been a "mixed bag" so far

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 5-2 loss to the Angels:

 

QUOTES

 

* “Missed opportunities -- that’s the story of this one. We did a fantastic job of, once again, putting guys on. But to cash in and complete the inning -- that base hit has been elusive . . . It’s been all or nothing it seems like this stretch that we’re through offensively.” Farrell said on Boston’s offensive play of late.

 

* “The first one wasn’t me. I had a lot of time off -- had a lot of things going on. The last one was more myself -- I fell like. Tonight, I made a bad pitch too (Albert) Pujols, walked a couple guys. But overall, I feel like I did a decent job.” Pomeranz on his first three starts in Boston

 

* “I’m just trying to put a good swing on a good pitch and fortunately I got one and it went over.” Mookie Betts said on his leadoff homerun.

 

* “It’s been a mixed bag.” Farrell on Pomeranz to trough his first threw starts for the Red Sox.

 

* “Overall he probably wasn’t as sharp as his last time out. And when they created damage against him it was early in counts . . . So it wasn’t like he got into too many deep innings.” John Farrell said Drew Pomeranz’s start.

 

* “It happens – it’s baseball. They capitalized on some chances and we didn’t.” Betts on the offense not taking advantage of early opportunities.

 

NOTES

 

* Mookie Betts’ leadoff homerun was his 21st long ball of the year, sixth to start off the game. He passed Dwight Evans (5 in 1985) and now only trails Nomar Garciaparra’s seven in 1997.

 

* Albert Pujols launched his 20th home run of the season, reaching that total for the 15th time in his career. He joins Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron as the only players to do so through at least 16 seasons.

 

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base safely in 33 straight games for the Red Sox after walking twice and finishing 1-for-2 in the loss.

 

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a single in his second at-bat, finishing 1-for-3 with a walk.

 

* The Red Sox are now two games out of first place with Toronto finally moving into first place after defeating the Orioles 9-1 on Saturday.

 

 

STARS

 

1) Hector Santiago

Somehow, the lefty managed to scatter six walks and four hits -- including a leadoff homerun -- only giving up two runs in five innings of work against Boston.

 

2) Albert Pujols

Pujols’ two-run homerun gave the Angels the advantage after falling behind early, and proved to be enough for their pitching staff.

 

3) Dustin Pedroia

As much as Mookie Betts had the big fly, Pedroia reached base three times in four chances, finishing 1-for-2 with two walks.

First impressions: Red Sox miss out on free opportunities

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First impressions: Red Sox miss out on free opportunities

First impressions of the Red Sox 5-2 loss to Los Angeles:

 

Far too many missed opportunities for the Red Sox.

Hector Santiago somehow worked his way through five innings and only gave up two runs -- despite walking six batters and giving up six hits.

Somehow he’s flipped a switch in July after a rough start to the season. But Saturday night was not one of those nights.

Although the pitching wasn’t at it’s best, Santiago gave the Red Sox offense several easy chances at runs that they didn’t capitalize on -- including two instances where Bryce Brentz was punched-out.

 

Joe Kelly not the best guy to bring in with runners on.

The righty gave up a crucial double to start his appearance -- which would’ve been an amazing catch by Brock Holt.

Next leadoff batter he got out, but his last one reach on a line drive single up the middle.

So 67 percent of the leadoff batters got a hit off of Kelly.

A small sample size? Yes.

But when you’ve got a track record like Kelly’s, assessments like that are going to be made.

 

The return out west didn’t go as planned for Drew Pomeranz.

While Saturday was a Pacific Coast homecoming for the lefty starter, he wasn’t able to find his form.

It seemed like things would go well at first, but Pomeranz made some crucial mistakes in his second trip through the order.

Walking Yunel Escobar isn’t an option when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols follow him.

Furthermore, the cutter Pujols launched to left field was down the heart of the plate -- simply unacceptable.

 

Mookie Betts is making might be more valuable than Xander Bogaerts.

It became clear pretty early that Betts had the superior power.

While Bogaerts’ hands give bail him out constantly, they never move as quickly as those of the Boston leadoff hitter.

And while Bogaerts seemed to be the superior hitter for average, Betts is narrowing that gap, too.

The only case for Bogaerts being more valuable is that he’s a shortstop.

Other than that, Betts has shown he could easily be the face of the franchise when David Ortiz retires -- which is great for Boston, since he’s the one of the two who isn’t a Scott Boras client.

 

Red Sox fail to secure another series win against a bad team.

The Angels have no pitching. In fact, the Red Sox haven’t even faced their best pitcher.

And with the exception of Friday’s game, they’ve scored three runs in two LA games.

And the pitching was good until Saturday night -- so the offense has to get things going for Sunday.

Saturday's Red Sox-Angels Lineups: Pomeranz makes Red Sox road debut on west coast

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Saturday's Red Sox-Angels Lineups: Pomeranz makes Red Sox road debut on west coast

Drew Pomeranz (0-1, 7.00 with Boston) makes his return to the west coast in his first road start in a Red Sox uniform. The lefty is coming off a six-inning start where he gave up two runs, but was on the wrong end of a 4-2 contest against the Tigers.

The Angels answer with Hector Santiago (9-4, 4.28). He shut out Boston for six innings on 7/2 -- the same day the Red Sox staff gave up 21 runs.

The lineups:

RED SOX

Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Hanley Ramirez DH
Aaron Hill 3B
Travis Shaw 1B
Bryce Brentz LF
Sandy Leon C

Drew Pomeranz LHP

ANGELS
Yunel Escobar 3B
Mike Trout CF
Albert Pujols DH
Jefry Marte 1B
Andrelton Simmons SS
Jett Bandy C
Johnny Giavotella 2B
Gregorio Petit LF
Shane Robinson RF

Hector Santiago LHP