The more optimism there is about the Red Sox’ starting rotation, the more concern there is for the bullpen.
The Red Sox avoided a sweep by the Twins with a 6-4 win Sunday at Fenway Park, ending a four-game losing streak, with Texas coming in for three games. Yet while there was glee over Franklin Morales subbing for Josh Beckett and throwing six strong innings, there was concern over a bullpen that’s beginning to wear thin.
Vicente Padilla allowed homers in the ninth to Josh Willingham (a solo shot) and Ryan Doumit (a two-run blast), before Alfredo Aceves came on to earn his 23d save, a day after he’d blown a lead in a loss to the Twins.
“He pitched six great innings,” manager Bobby Valentine said of Morales, who now has held his opponents to one run or fewer in three of his six starts this season. “I was impressed with the way he and [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] used all of his pitches. A lot of changeups for strikes and he threw his curveball. He didn’t get many strikes but he threw it effectively. Very impressive.”
Valentine, who first recognized that Morales would be a good starter for the Sox, wants him to continue in the rotation, but he has to figure out his depleted bullpen. He also doesn’t care for a six-man rotation, which means someone, possibly Aaron Cook, would have to exit the rotation.
In addition to the Padilla and Aceves meltdowns the last two days, Andrew Miller also put three consecutive men on base Saturday night. The Sox probably need another reliever, so it appears the days of three catchers might soon be over.
“I was really concerned,” Valentine said about Padilla. “I sent [pitching coach] Bob [McClure] out to the mound thinking he was injured because he was not throwing with velocity or control. He usually has both. He’s a little sore. We’ll check on him tomorrow. I was very impressed with Aceves coming in and he faced the same guys he faced yesterday and had a 1-2-3 inning.”
Daniel Bard is pitching better in Pawtucket. Andrew Bailey is making rehab appearances, so he may also be a possible answer in the bullpen. But not right now.
“I like [Morales] as a starter,” Valentine said. “Right now, I don’t think we have to do anything with Franklin or make a total determination. I have a tough Texas team coming in and our bullpen is a little wobbly and we’re a guy short out there and all that good stuff. We’ll play it by ear.
“We just have to figure out all the other parts. He wants to start and I want him to start and we have to figure it out. We can’t always count on a guy getting injured so he can get a start. He’s been lights-out out there.”
The Sox did finally get some sustained offense. Carl Crawford stroked three hits, and Adrian Gonzalez belted a big two-run homer in the fifth inning, his 11th of the season, and had three RBIs. The Sox finally knocked a Twins pitcher around, as Nick Blackburn allowed four runs on nine hits over five innings.
The Sox took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Mike Aviles singled, Jacoby Ellsbury doubled, and a Crawford groundout drove in Aviles. Gonzalez singled to center to score Ellsbury.
Gonzalez’s shot in the fifth expanded the lead to 4-1, and the Sox tacked on single runs in the seventh and eighth. Cody Ross singled up the middle to score Crawford in the seventh, and in the eighth, Ryan Kalish doubled, stole third, and scored on Ellsbury’s sacrifice fly. The Sox needed all of it.
Morales, who hadn’t started since July 13 vs. the Rays, said, “It was pretty hot, and at the outset the ball was slipping out of my hand. I tried to do my best and make my pitches.”
Morales said he never felt tired, but he was just sweating so much that the moisture was running down his arm and onto his hand.
“I tried to control it, but I felt 100 percent focused on what I was doing and that was to throw my fastball and curveball for a strike,” he said.
Morales, who threw 106 pitches, needed to be the stopper at a time when the Sox were sinking fast. Beckett came up with back spasms, allowing Morales to start.
“I didn’t come out thinking about that,” Morales said about being the stopper. “I just came out and tried to throw my pitches and tried to get the batters to swing and miss to try and get out of the inning as quickly as possible.
“When we’re all playing together, little by little, anything is possible. Everyone did what they had to do. The guys got me an early lead and it gave me all the focus I needed to go out and pitch inning by inning.”
Saltalamacchia said he’s been impressed with Morales’s ability to go back and forth almost seamlessly.
“It’s real impressive considering that he went from bullpen to starter back to the bullpen again,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s been up and down every night.
“Even last night he knew he was starting today but he still had his cleats on just in case. To have a mentality like that, to be able to turn a switch and pitch a gem like today, is awesome.
“He got better later. It was hot out there today. There’s a couple that got away from him, I think, because of a little moisture, but he just got better and better every inning. Bobby asked if he had one more and the way I thought it was, ‘Yeah, he’s looking good.’ He went out and got us one more.”
Padilla, on the other hand, allowed a run in the 10th inning of Friday night’s loss as well. There looks to be something amiss.
This is a tough time for the setup man in the bullpen to go south. There was always the concern that too many innings would catch up to him, and he seems to have hit that wall.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @nickcafardo