The Red Sox signed righthander Ryan Dempster to a two-year, $26.5 million contract based largely on his reliability. The 36-year-old has thrown 200 or more innings seven times in his career, four times in the last five seasons.
Their belief was that if Dempster maintained that level of consistency, he would be a productive No. 3 starter.
Dempster has done his part. He and Jon Lester are the only Sox starters to make all of their starts this season and his 89⅓ innings are second on the team.
“He’s the pitcher we fully anticipated when we signed him,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
But the expected success hasn’t followed. Dempster pitched effectively for six innings on Wednesday night, putting the Sox in a position to win. But the result was a 6-2 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays before a crowd of 35,710 at Fenway Park.
Dempster is 4-8 and the Sox are 6-9 in the games he has started.
“I just wish we were winning more of the games that I’m starting,” Dempster said. “That’s all I care about, is the day I pitch that we win and we’re not winning those right now.”
Wednesday marked the 11th time the Sox have scored three or fewer runs with Dempster on the mound. This from a team averaging just over five runs a game.
“Seemingly there’s a guy on each staff that might be pitching on the wrong day,” Farrell said. “That’s probably been the case with Ryan on a few occasions. But that’s something completely out of his control. But yet at the same time we’re in position to win most every time he walks to the mound.”
The Sox lost for only the third time in 12 games against the Rays this season. Tampa Bay had 15 hits and won for the first time in six games at Fenway this season.
Jeremy Hellickson and four relievers held the Red Sox to seven hits. Jose Iglesias was 0 for 2 with a walk, ending his hit streak at 18 games.
The Sox took two of three from the Rays in their brief homestand.
“We won two of three. That’s what we’re trying to do every time. Sweeps are tough to do,” Dempster said.
Dempster’s experience tells him his record will even out over time if he continues to pitch deep into games.
“That’s the hope, you know? Or pitch even better. Make better pitches,” he said. “The games that are in the past are in the past.”
Dempster had a rough first inning, giving up two runs on three hits.
Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay’s second hitter, drove a high splitter into the Monster seats for his ninth home run.
Singles by Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria followed. James Loney’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0.
Dempster went into the fifth inning having retired 10 of the previous 12 batters. Jose Molina (12 of 23 against the Red Sox this season) led off with a single to left field. With two outs, Dempster walked Jennings.
Zobrist followed with a single to center field. The 38-year-old Molina, perhaps the slowest player in the majors, challenged the weak arm of Jacoby Ellsbury and beat the throw to the plate.
Dempster left two runners stranded in the sixth inning to end his outing. He allowed three runs on eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts. It was Dempster’s fifth consecutive quality start.
The Rays had a 3-2 lead when Dempster left the game. It jumped to 6-2 in the seventh inning.
With two outs and a runner on first, Craig Breslow allowed a single off the wall by Longoria that scored a run. James Loney followed with double.
Alex Wilson came in to face righthanded hitting rookie Wil Myers. Down 0 and 2, Myers smacked a high fastball into the gap in right field for the first two RBIs of his career.
“The seventh inning was probably the pivotal point,” Farrell said.
Hellickson (5-3) allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He struck out four without a walk.
Down 2-0, the Sox tied the game with single runs in the second and fourth innings. Jonny Gomes, who on Tuesday hit a two-run walkoff home run in the second game of a doubleheader, drove in both runs.
David Ortiz doubled to center to lead off the second inning, the ball hitting the wall and bounding away.
Ortiz advanced to third on a groundout and scored when Gomes hit a hot shot to third base that Longoria couldn’t handle. It was ruled a hit.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who caught 27 innings over two days, doubled off the wall in center in the fourth inning. He took third on a wild pitch and scored on another two-out infield single to third by Gomes.
On Thursday, Red Sox start a four game series against the Tigers in Detroit. The Tigers are in first place in the American League Central after winning the pennant last season.
“I think we felt coming into this month this presented . . . a very strong test for us,” Farrell said. “We’ll get four full days of them. They’ve got a couple of pretty good players over there.
“We’re going to get challenged in Detroit. We know that. But I’d like to think they’re probably going to feel the same when we leave there.”
The Red Sox will start John Lackey against rookie Jose Alvarez in the first game of the series. Farrell has not named a starter for Saturday but righthander Allen Webster is likely to get called up from Triple A Pawtucket.
Webster has started two games this season, allowing 10 earned runs over 7⅔ innings. He is 5-1 with a 2.98 earned run average in 10 starts for Pawtucket.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.