ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The more Junichi Tazawa misfired in the seventh inning of the Red Sox’ 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the more it puzzled Sox manager John Farrell.
Tazawa walked into a tricky situation after Andrew Miller beaned Jose Molina with a 2-and-2 slider to lead off the inning.
The lefthander struck out Logan Forsythe, but Farrell called on Tazawa to pitch to the righthanded-hitting Desmond Jennings to make sure a 3-2 Sox lead stayed that way.
But every pitch Tazawa threw seemed to have a mind of its own.
After starting Jennings off with a curveball away for a first-pitch strike, Tazawa ended up walking Jennings on seven pitches.
His fastball strayed off the edges of the plate. His forkball swerved too far inside.
Seeing that Tazawa’s stuff was erratic, the Rays didn’t do him any favors by offering at it.
After Jennings’s walk, Ben Zobrist let a first-pitch fastball graze the inside corner for a ball, then waited for a curveball and a couple of forkballs to pass him by before slapping the next heater he saw into left field for the RBI single to tie the game.
It took four pitches for Brandon Guyer to get a strike from Tazawa, and that alone gave him reason to leave the bat on his shoulder and take another walk when Tazawa missed with a fastball away.
It brought Evan Longoria to the plate with the bases loaded, and even when he fell behind two strikes to Tazawa he didn’t flinch.
He fouled off a forkball, let two balls go by up and away, fouled off another forkball at the bottom of the zone, then finally got a curveball that he lined to left field for a three-run double that ultimately sent the Sox to their fourth straight loss.
“He’s certainly a good hitter and he hit my curveball that I don’t use that often,” Tazawa said. “He sort of scooped it. I probably should have located that a little lower. But he’s certainly a good hitter.”
With his pitches going haywire, Tazawa leaned on his breaking balls. For as little as he’s leaned on his curveball this season, he threw it seven times to the six batters he faced.
Of the 29 pitches he threw on the night, only 15 were strikes and only 11 were fastballs.
He allowed four of the six batters he faced to reach base. For just the second time in his career as a reliever he gave up three runs. It was just the second time he gave up multiple walks as a reliever.
“Uncharacteristic with him misfiring as much as he did,” Farrell said. “Just off the edge on a number of pitches. It’s not typical that you see him walk a couple of guys in a given inning.’’
Tazawa hadn’t pitched since Sunday, when he came in to record a quick strikeout against the Royals while Edward Mujica was still getting warm.
The time off wasn’t for any physical ailments, Farrell said. And it didn’t necessarily have to do with the fact that Tazawa has generally struggled against the Blue Jays.
“He threw on the side up in Toronto,” Farrell said. “We have him a couple of days down, not because of any health reasons. Felt like it was a chance to give him some added rest coming into this series.”
Leaving the mound after giving up just two runs in six innings, Sox starter Jon Lester felt good about handing the game over to the bullpen with a one-run lead.
“To leave up 3-2 against David Price is a good feeling,” Lester said. “But they were able to put up some good at-bats there against Andrew and Taz and unfortunately we were on the bad side.
“Usually, Taz obviously has great control of all his pitches. These guys are locked in right now. He made some really good pitches that they just didn’t swing at. The ball that Longoria fouled off to get to 3-2, like I said, they’re locked in. You’ve got to tip your hat. Sometimes you just get beat.”
With that in mind, Tazawa didn’t want to blame his struggles Friday on rust.
“I don’t think that I can use that as an excuse,” Tazawa said. “That happens. I was just disappointed that I erased the win for Jonny and also I’m disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to contribute to the win.”
Tazawa’s two walks matched his total for his past 20 appearances combined. His 29 pitches were also a season high.
“I think my mechanics were not as sound as usual and also the fact that I was facing some hitters that were pretty hot, I was a little bit too cautious probably,” Tazawa said.