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ON BASEBALL

The Red Sox rotation has allowed 40 earned runs in the last 39 innings. What’s causing the struggle?

Martin Perez was pulled in the second inning of Sunday's loss.
Martin Perez was pulled in the second inning of Sunday's loss.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Ryan Weber was scheduled to start for Triple A Worcester at Syracuse on Sunday. At 11:20 a.m., the Red Sox announced he had been called up. A few minutes later, manager Alex Cora said Weber would be in the bullpen just in case the Sox needed multiple innings from a reliever behind starter Martín Pérez.

“Hopefully not,” the manager said.

At 1:41 p.m., Weber was in the game after Pérez served up more meatballs than any restaurant in the North End. Things sure move fast when the season is sliding downhill.

“It’s been a horrible week for us pitching-wise,” Cora said after the Toronto Blue Jays hit eight home runs and beat the Sox, 18-4.

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Red Sox starters have allowed 40 earned runs on 66 hits over 39 innings the last nine games, a period of time that roughly coincides with Major League Baseball leaking out the news that it would soon instruct umpires to crack down on pitchers putting illegal substances on the ball.

It’s hard to believe that’s coincidental. Cora was asked if there’s any relation.

“I just see the relation that we’re leaving a lot of pitches right down the middle and those guys are taking advantage of it,” he said.

Second baseman Christian Arroyo ended up pitching the ninth inning Sunday against the Jays.
Second baseman Christian Arroyo ended up pitching the ninth inning Sunday against the Jays.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Pitching coach Dave Bush said Sox pitchers have known going back to last season that the foreign substance issue was on MLB’s radar and the rules would soon be enforced.

“It’s no surprise. It’s something that has to get cleaned up across the game,” Bush said. “We’ve talked to the guys from spring training on. We had another meeting last week.

“They know what’s going on. They know what the rules are and what they have to follow and, no, I don’t think it’s having an impact on this right now.”

Pérez emphatically denied doctoring the ball, but the team-wide statistics are so stark they can’t be ignored. Something changed earlier this month other than the weather.

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But it’s also true the Sox have played 14 games in a row without a day off, and that 10 of those games have been against the Astros and Blue Jays, two of the best offensive teams in the game.

Bo Bichette returns to the dugout after his fifth-inning homer Sunday.
Bo Bichette returns to the dugout after his fifth-inning homer Sunday.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Blue Jays hit some home runs Sunday that were frightening. Bo Bichette cleared everything in left field for the second day in a row, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sent one just over the roof of the home bullpen that had Sox relievers scrambling to get out of the way.

Toronto scored 30 runs on 46 hits — 21 of them for extra bases — in the first three games of the series. They, not the Red Sox or Yankees, are the biggest threat to the Rays in the American League East.

Ideally, the Sox would have a No. 6 starter to mix in and give the others a break. But the two pitchers they saw as front-line depth, Tanner Houck and Connor Seabold, are on the minor league injured list. Both should be back this season, but not any time soon.

For the moment, there’s nobody else. Weber has been one of Worcester’s more reliable starters, and he allowed 11 runs on 13 hits — four of them home runs — over 5⅔ innings.

It’s also true the Red Sox rotation had overachieved for two months. Pérez came into this season with a 4.71 career earned run average. Garrett Richards was demoted to the bullpen by the Padres last season. Nick Pivetta was 19-30 with a 5.50 ERA in Philadelphia before he was traded.

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Mix in that the Sox have played 66 games and all of their starters other than Pérez have worked more innings than they did last season.

Eduardo Rodriguez did not pitch last season. Pivetta has thrown 53⅔ more innings than he did in 2020, Nate Eovaldi 24 more, and Richards 19 more.

“There’s definitely a fatigue factor,” Bush said. “We knew that coming in. We planned for a longer year. There’s going to be some natural dips along the way.”

Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush has seen his staff struggle mightily the last week.
Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush has seen his staff struggle mightily the last week.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

What we’re seeing now, for a variety of reasons, is reality, and it had the crowd at Fenway Park booing in the first inning.

The Sox were widely predicted to finish fourth in the American League East. They were seen as much better than they were last season, but not quite there yet. That they got two months before their rotation showed its cracks is a testament to Cora’s bullpen management and the hard work Bush has done shining up Pivetta, Pérez, and Richards. There’s more work to do.

The Sox and Jays play again Monday. The Green Monster seats should come with a hard hat.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.