It was encouraging that Grady Sizemore got the winning hit for the Red Sox in a 4-3 victory in 12 innings. But let’s face it, at the end of this journey, when judgment day comes in late September, success will depend in large part by how good your pitching was.
And the Red Sox, it appears, will have it.
They may struggle with runners in scoring position as they did Tuesday night (1 for 12 before Sizemore’s winner). They may struggle on defense (Will Middlebrooks made a 10th-inning error at third base). But more often that not, the pitching will prevail.
Felix Doubront gave Boston a very good start (5⅓ innings, 5 hits, 1 run, 3 K’s, 3 walks). The Sox will take those numbers from a fifth starter. Doubront fell just short of delivering the team’s seventh consecutive quality start.
The Sox were waiting for Doubront (1-3, 5.70 ERA entering the game) to smooth out, and Tuesday night he did just that.
He wasn’t too bad his last time out — six innings, four runs (three earned) in a no-decision vs. Tampa Bay, a 6-5 Sox loss .
“The last couple of times through the rotation it’s been consistent, dominant in cases,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said. “Felix, in a couple of innings, he was very crisp and very sharp. We’re trying to get him through some things where the following inning leaves you wondering what happened from the previous inning. We need some consistency with him to get him deeper in games.
“As we see, our rotation is going to be critical to us. And his contribution is going to be needed.”
Doubront feels he’s made some progress in every start. He still leaves you frustrated in his outings because he has a world of talent and hasn’t been able to find the consistency to be dominant. Yet, there aren’t many teams who have that quality from the No. 5 spot.
“I was happy [with the outing],” Doubront said. “I felt more confidence in throwing the ball. A couple of walks, a couple of mistakes, but overall I threw the ball well. I think I’m getting there in every outing. My mechanics are better. I’m keeping the damage down and trying to give my team opportunity to win. I just have to keep throwing like that and the wins are going to come.”
There were no signs from the Sox that continued struggles would land him in the bullpen. Farrell was determined that pitching coach Juan Nieves was going to get him going like he did last year, when he helped carry the rotation while Clay Buchholz was out of action.
So the Sox have five starters in a pretty good rhythm right now.
The Sox are just one of seven teams who have used only five starters this season. What that means is health and that health will eventually lead to consistent winning.
It’s when the starters get hurt and the depth is tested, that’s when teams find themselves in trouble.
The White Sox have used the most with nine (in 34 games), followed by the Mariners, Rangers, and Dodgers with eight.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to lose if you go more than five deep, but you’d better have major league ready personnel.
While the Red Sox have good pitching prospects, do they have major-league-ready ones? You can make the argument that Brandon Workman, who is 1-0 with a 4.95 ERA in four Pawtucket starts , could step in and take a spot in the rotation. Beyond that, however, you’re rolling the dice with Allen Webster or Rubby De La Rosa.
Webster has been a Nervous Nelly every time he’s come up to the big leagues while De La Rosa’s hard and at times straight fastball has been caught up to in relief roles in the majors.
Until Webster and De La Rosa actually show they can pitch successfully at the major league level, their Triple A accomplishments guarantee nothing.
But the pitching signs are positive.
Boston’s 22 quality starts are tied with Oakland for the most in the American League and the most through 32 games since the 1952 Sox had 24. The starters have also thrown an American League-high 199⅔ innings and are second in the AL with 185 strikeouts.
Jon Lester and John Lackey have thrown some dominating games. Buchholz’s arm strength is returning. Jake Peavy has been very consistent. And so they waited for Doubront to carry his weight.
Sox starters have now allowed three runs or fewer in 12 of their last 13 games. The Sox bullpen has a 3.27 ERA, second to Oakland’s 2.71, and have allowed only 16 percent of their inherited runners to score (second to Cleveland’s 15.3 percent).
Burke Badenhop came in for Doubront and got a first-pitch inning-ending double play grounder. Badenhop hasn’t allowed a run in his last 11 ⅔ innings. Andrew Miller struck out four batters he faced in two perfect innings and has 16 strikeouts over 10⅔ innings.
While Junichi Tazawa struggles at times and Koji Uehara doesn’t seem as dominant as last season, the Red Sox staff keeps performing well. Except for the slight oblique muscle pull Edward Mujica has dealt with recently and the few days of shoulder stiffness suffered by Uehara last month, Sox pitchers have been relatively healthy.
Pitching health usually leads to pitching dominance.
And while the journey has yet to lead them to .500, once they get there, their pitching will rise above, taking care of the issues that have left them below .500 for the first 33 games of the season.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.