By Sean McAdam
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.