Extra Bases

After Keeping Them Afloat, Starting Pitching has Failed Red Sox Recently

Clay Buchholz walk off the mound after he was pulled in the fifth inning of Wednesday's game with the Toronto Blue Jays. Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports

So … can Stephen Drew pitch?

As the Red Sox offense struggled to seize opportunities, to hit righties, and to score runs in general over the season’s first six weeks, the saving grace was the starting pitching. Beyond Jon Lester the group wasn’t spectacular, but by and large the rotation was at least reliable, ranking among the American League leaders in ERA and quality starts, and keeping Boston in contention until its bats awoke.

So it is of little surprise that as the Sox starters have begun to falter, so has the team as a whole.

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When Clay Buchholz left the mound after 4.2 unimpressive innings Wednesday night, he did so with his team in line for its sixth straight loss – and with the Boston starter shouldering primary blame in each of those setbacks, save for Jon Lester’s rain-interrupted appearance against the Tigers last Friday.

His latest effort including a couple of Edwin Encarnacion homers among a variety of laser beams, Buchholz has been responsible for two of the set, the first featuring 13 baserunners in six frames, and kicking off a span during which Red Sox starters have posted a 6.68 ERA while surrendering an even-uglier 1.97 walks and hits per inning pitched.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday the Boston starter was done before the end of the fifth, while not once in the past half-dozen games has the Sox rotation recorded an out in the seventh inning. And after totaling 215 strikeouts to 78 walks over the season’s first 39 tilts – a ratio of nearly 3-to-1 – the last six starts have featured 23 Ks and 13 free passes. That’s less than 2-to-1.

Opponents are reaching base at a .401 clip over this recent stretch, which is about 80 points north of the league average entering Wednesday – and now the Sox will need to call up a minor leaguer to make a turn this next time through, with Felix Doubront going to the disabled list after supposedly bumping his throwing shoulder into a car door.

Go ahead and laugh at that explanation. Or dismiss the loss of Doubront because, if everyone is right, he’s probably the Sox’ fifth starter. But the reality is that he was throwing the ball well in three May starts before losing his velocity and getting knocked around Tuesday, so trading him for the uncertainty that comes from Pawtucket along with Brandon Workman or Allen Webster isn’t insignificant for a team trying to get itself right. A team that’s recently been getting drowned by the pitching that buoyed it for most of the first month and a half.

But, hey, at least they’ve got a new shortstop.