DETROIT - We’re three games in, so I don’t want to write a panicky analysis on how poor the Red Sox’ pitching is.
So I’ll keep it within the context of three games.
I’m not saying it will be like this forever, or even by tomorrow or next week.
But right now?
Be very concerned.
The immediate worry is the state of the bullpen, as Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves have been nothing short of horrendous. Both scuffled in Sunday’s 13-12 11-inning loss to the Tigers.
Aceves served up a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in the ninth to erase a 10-7 Red Sox lead and Melancon allowed a walkoff two-run homer to catcher Alex Avila after he’d given up a run earlier in the 11th.
“I have to stay aggressive and just forget about this one,’’ said Melancon.
Asked afterward about his bullpen, manager Bobby Valentine said, “We’re trying to figure out what to do. We’ll keep it a work in progress. We’re three days into this thing since we lost the closer [Andrew Bailey].’’
It’s been written here that Daniel Bard, who will start Tuesday night’s game vs. the Blue Jays, should return to the bullpen as the closer and the starting experiment should be scrapped. It doesn’t appear as if Valentine is quite ready to do anything that drastic yet, but when asked if Bard were an eventual possibility he said, “Might be.’’
This is a sensitive situation. You don’t want Aceves and Melancon to completely lose confidence. Aceves seems to let things roll off his back fairly quickly, but Melancon seemed frustrated and disheartened Sunday by his two appearances.
Scouts have noted that Melancon has had problems getting his curveball to be effective and therefore had gone away from it. He threw it more Sunday and got some swings and misses, but, as he put it, he left the ball to Avila hanging, and he lost the game as a result.
Valentine certainly tried to put a positive twist on things, probably more than he should have.
He cited the good work done by Vicente Padilla, who pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Clay Buchholz and kept the Sox in the game after they dug themselves a 4-0 hole. Should Padilla have been allowed to work the ninth? Valentine said Padilla had reached his limit of about 60 pitches and was done.
The manager also commented on lefty Franklin Morales’s two scoreless innings in relief of Aceves. One wonders if Morales might enter the closer mix.
At some point, some of the attaboys will turn into serious decisions.
While the bullpen is a mess, the starting rotation isn’t far behind.
Jon Lester pitched a beauty on Opening Day in a loss against Justin Verlander in another game the bullpen threw away. But he will have to be a 220-inning, lights-out No. 1 for this team to have thoughts of a postseason run.
As it is, the Sox seem to have a couple of No. 2s and a No. 3 or 4 among their first three starters.
Josh Beckett was tagged for five home runs in a 10-0 loss Saturday in Game 2.
Two concerns, according to baseball evaluators: 1) Beckett’s thumb must not be right, despite his denials, and 2) why has his fastball become so straight? Hitters have noticed this, too, the past couple of seasons. The velocity is there, but movement is lacking. Until Beckett pitches well, one has to wonder about his health.
And Sunday there was Buchholz.
Do we give him a mulligan for rustiness since he hadn’t pitched in a game since June 16 of last season? Or do we note that while Buchholz may be healthy after a stress fracture in his back, his spring training wasn’t exactly electric and Sunday’s outing was poor.
Buchholz commented about how good he felt, and pitchers often feel good and pitch lousy. He pitched lousy. He lasted four innings, allowing seven runs and eight hits, with two walks and two strikeouts.
Buchholz needed to be effective with his secondary pitches to have a fighting chance against the Tigers, who crush fastballs. At times he got a batter to chase an offspeed pitch or a curveball in the dirt, but he got hit on a pair of 0-and-2 changeups.
Otherwise he really struggled, including right off the bat in the first inning when the Tigers scored four runs. That was highlighted by Jhonny Peralta’s bases-clearing three-run double just over Jacoby Ellsbury’s head in center field.
Buchholz was terrific two years ago when he won 17 games and had an ERA of 2.33. He pitched 173 2/3 innings that season, his high as a professional, but because of injuries last season he wound working less than half that (82 2/3).
It can’t be a stretch to ask Buchholz to pitch 200 innings. With the uncertainty of No. 4 and No. 5 starters Felix Doubront and Bard, it is imperative that Buchholz at the very least handle his role as the No. 3 starter.
This is the first season of four-year, $28.7 million deal that contains two team options of $13 million and $13.5 million. Buchholz is now making big-boy money and big things are expected. The kid gloves are off. There’s no limiting his innings or his pitch count. He’s a 27-year-old starter and a major talent. And now it’s time that Buchholz assumes the role.
“I wanted to keep the ball in the park and I did that, but every time they made contact the ball found a hole or was out of reach of somebody,’’ Buchholz lamented.
“Not the way you wanted to start. When this team scores 12 runs in a game, that should be a 100-percent win. Vicente and Franklin did an awesome job. I have to do a better job of getting deeper into the games.’’
In the offseason, pitching was the biggest concern on this team. And three games in - and again, let’s stress it’s three games - the pitching has been a wreck.
There’s really no way to sugarcoat what we’ve seen so far.
Be optimistic at your peril.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.