CLEVELAND — Red Sox starting pitchers have the fourth-highest earned run average in the American League this season, an inept performance that has forced manager Bobby Valentine to lean heavily on his bullpen.
“Early, middle, and lately,” Valentine said.
That group has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season. But now the workload is starting to take a toll.
Sox relievers have allowed 18 earned runs on 31 hits over 27 innings this month.
Vicente Padilla, who unexpectedly became the primary set-up guy and pitched well in that role, went to the disabled list Wednesday with biceps tendinitis. Scott Atchison, who had thrown 46 innings in relief by July 13, is on the DL with a torn elbow ligament and could miss the rest of the season unless a rehab program works.
Rich Hill, who got frequent work as a lefty specialist, has been out since June with a strained tendon in his elbow and only recently started facing hitters in batting practice.
Righthanders Junichi Tazawa and Clayton Mortensen are recent arrivals from Triple A Pawtucket. Valentine also is using Mark Melancon in more high-leverage situations.
“It’s tough at this point in the season,” said lefthander Andrew Miller. “You see a lot of physical problems in the bullpen. You have to find a way to grind through it as much as you can. You need adrenaline to get you through.”
The Sox also changed the composition of the bullpen at the trade deadline, swapping righthander Matt Albers for Diamondbacks lefthander Craig Breslow.
“It’s a little different mix out there since Breslow has gotten here,” Valentine said. “Albers was an inning-plus righthander replaced by an inning, or a little less, lefthander.”
The return of Andrew Bailey will give Valentine a good late-inning option. The righthander, out all season recovering from thumb surgery, pitched another scoreless inning for Pawtucket Thursday afternoon, allowing one hit and striking out two against Syracuse.
Bailey has pitched five innings in five minor league games during his rehab assignment, allowing one run on six hits and one walk while striking out nine.
He is scheduled to pitch for Pawtucket again Sunday. If that goes well, Bailey could be in position to join the team early next week.
“Anytime you can add a guy like that, it’s a big help to the team,” Miller said. “Bailey can really help us. Everybody who has come up or come off the DL has helped us and really fit in. Right now, we need the help.”
Miller has been a valuable arm late in games. Through Wednesday, lefthanders were hitting .138 against him.
“I like the way the bullpen has come together this season, and my role has been fun,’’ Miller said. “It’s something new for me but it has worked out. Hopefully we can get over this hump and get everybody healthy again. It’s an important time of the year for us.”
The Red Sox signed Scott Podsednik to a major league deal and he will rejoin the team Saturday. The team will send Ryan Kalish back to Triple A Pawtucket to make room for the veteran outfielder.
The Sox traded Podsednik along with Albers to the Diamondbacks on July 31 for Breslow, but Podsednik refused minor league assignment and was granted free agency.
Podsednik hit .387 with one homer and seven RBIs and an .893 OPS in 62 at-bats with the Sox from May 22 to June 17.
Valentine announced that Jon Lester would start Sunday’s series finale against the Indians. Josh Beckett, who was hit hard Wednesday, will stay in the rotation and face the Orioles next week.
Valentine, pitching coach Bob McClure, and assistant general manager Mike Hazen met and discussed Beckett’s status.
They feel Beckett’s poor performance against the Rangers (5 innings, 8 hits, 8 earned runs) was partly the result of his sitting out seven days with a sore lower back.
Valentine said Beckett is healthy.
“He had no after-effect with his back or his shoulder,” the manager said. “His legs felt strong throughout the whole outing.”
The Sox are 15-27 in games started by Lester (5-10, 5.36) and Beckett (5-9, 4.97). If the Sox were merely .500 in those games, they would be 10 games over .500 and leading the wild-card race.
The Indians lost 11 consecutive games from July 27 to Aug. 7 and had a 7.54 ERA. Not surprisingly, they fired pitching coach Scott Radinsky Thursday and replaced him with Ruben Niebla, the pitching coach for Triple A Columbus.
The Indians also put Travis Hafner on the DL with lower back inflammation. Infielder Jason Donald was recalled from Columbus. Donald started at second base and batted leadoff when Jason Kipnis was scratched from the lineup with a sore neck.
No go on Lowe
The Red Sox have no plans to acquire righthander Derek Lowe, who was designated for assignment by the Indians Aug. 2. The 39-year-old had a 5.52 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 21 starts for the Indians . . . Brent Lillibridge, who played 10 games for the Red Sox before being traded to the Indians, started at third base. Lillbridge was one of the players the Sox obtained from the White Sox for Kevin Youkilis in June . . . Adrian Gonzalez has hit safely in all nine games this month, a home run in the fourth inning extending his streak.