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For Red Sox to contend, pitching must improve

Reliever Andrew Miller didn’t help his cause by hitting  Jhonny Peralta in the seventh inning with the bases loaded.

GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

Reliever Andrew Miller didn’t help his cause by hitting Jhonny Peralta in the seventh inning with the bases loaded.

DETROIT — You have to face facts after losing three out of four to the Detroit Tigers.

While it’s not the end of the world, and the Red Sox are still in first place, they are not matching up well against three potential postseason rivals, the Orioles (2-5), the Tigers (1-3), and Rangers (2-4). That’s three possible October foes you’re just not doing much against.

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Certainly, Sunday’s 7-5 loss was a wacky one. A blown call by the umpires might have cost the Sox the game when they ruled Daniel Nava never had possession of the ball he dropped in right field in the eighth inning, a play that opened the floodgates for three runs. The replays indicated otherwise.

But in the bigger view, the developing story is the Red Sox pitching.

What carried them early in the season is now bringing them down. Andrew Bailey already has been demoted from closer to late-inning reliever. He entered Sunday’s game in the seventh, faced three batters, and two of them had hits.

One of the batters, Torii Hunter, lined one to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who said the ball knuckled on him, causing him to drop it.

Pedroia threw to first base, where Mike Napoli basically tagged everyone.

“Did you tag the first base coach?” Pedroia quipped.

Napoli tagged everyone, but not in the right order. He should have tagged Austin Jackson, who just stood on first base, first, and then tagged the base. That would have been a double play and Bailey might have had a better fate. Later in the inning, Andrew Miller hit Jhonny Peralta with an 0-and-2 pitch with the bases loaded to force in the tying run.

That play might have messed everyone up. It was an aberration and Pedroia eventually took the blame, saying, “Why didn’t I just throw the ball to second base [since Jackson wasn’t running]? What was I thinking?”

Nobody was thinking.

Maybe that was because they couldn’t figure out how they’d just been able to end Justin Verlander’s day after five innings and still not win the game.

But with all the crazy plays, the Red Sox just aren’t getting the shutdown pitching they need.

General manager Ben Cherington indicated that if he felt the team needed some pitching solutions he would have to entertain a trade with some of his redundant prospects. That time may be coming sooner rather than later.

Felix Doubront, who pitched so well in his last outing against Tampa Bay when he allowed three hits over eight shutout innings only to have Bailey blow the save in the ninth inning, allowed two runs in the first inning and put his team into a hole.

Doubront was again his old self — a lot of pitches (104) through five innings, which meant the bullpen had to come in early.

Manager John Farrell had Junichi Tazawa in the game. We all thought Tazawa was the eighth-inning guy now that Koji Uehara is the closer. But Tazawa pitched early.

Miller was called upon to clean up Bailey’s mess. He allowed an immediate single to Prince Fielder. Throwing 98 miles per hour, he completely ate up Victor Martinez to get the strikeout with the bases loaded. But then he got ahead on Peralta, 0 and 2, and tried to waste a pitch. Unfortunately, he threw it too far inside and it hit Peralta, forcing in the tying run.

The Nava play to start the eighth certainly messed Miller up, but on a sacrifice bunt by Bryan Holaday, he threw wide at first where Pedroia had to come off the bag and the runner was safe. Then there was a sacrifice fly by Hunter off Alex Wilson for the go-ahead run and then Fielder added two more with a single up the middle off Craig Breslow.

The night before, Allen Webster had drawn oohs and aahs from the Tigers hitters, who all predicted he would be a heck of a major league pitcher because of his stuff, which Detroit manager Jim Leyland described as “electric.”

Farrell said before the game that Webster is still on schedule to make his next start four days from now. Really? As good as he’s going to be, Webster has been drilled. The Red Sox are losing games he pitches, and that has to be the bottom line.

I asked Farrell earlier about the situation with Webster. With experience, he eventually will eliminate the mistakes and accentuate the other great things he does (such as throw an incredible changeup), but can you afford to develop at this level in the middle of a pennant race?

My answer would be no.

Webster should get back down to Pawtucket and learn his craft, and the Sox should go with the proven Alfredo Aceves.

While the loss of Clay Buchholz wasn’t hurting this team for a while, guess what? It is now.

Buchholz was supposed to pitch in this series and he did not. This irritating neck situation he has is literally a pain in the neck to this team right now. Buchholz is 9-0 and the Red Sox are 11-1 in his starts. Farrell has admitted that the righty’s recuperation has taken longer than expected and Buchholz won’t pitch until he’s 100 percent.

Now, according to Farrell, Buchholz will need a rehab start before he comes back.

Add to the fact that Jon Lester is simply not pitching well. He has almost completely flip-flopped his 6-0 start. He got the win Friday night but lasted only 5 innings. That just won’t cut it.

The loss of Buchholz, the ineffectiveness of Lester, and the search for a closer has put a strain on the rest of the staff. Since Uehara was named the closer two days ago, he has not appeared.

The AL East is tightening. As time goes on one realizes that this is indeed anyone’s division to win or to lose.

The Red Sox have flaws and they no longer have a clear path to winning the division outright. The Orioles have the Tigers’ number, but the Blue Jays, who have won 11 straight, obviously have been dominant over the Orioles.

The Tigers also have their flaws — they have a poor defensive team and they don’t run the bases very well. They are slow. They have a closer issue after Jose Valverde was designated for assignment and Joaquin Benoit, who earned the win Sunday, was named the closer.

The Red Sox are sure to do some more tweaking with their roster this week. After the day off Monday, they play host to Colorado for two games, but then they begin a four-game series against the Blue Jays.

Cherington said the team that wins will have good pitching, remain healthy, and make the right in-season adjustments.

Some of that needs to happen soon.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.
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