With a series sweep by the Blue Jays, a looming Aug. 2 trade deadline, and a chance to fall back to .500 for the first time since June 5 all weighing on a struggling team, Red Sox rookie Brayan Bello took the ball on Sunday at Fenway Park.
Three and a half hours later, the Sox had lost, 8-4, to Toronto. Stress on the starting pitcher, however, wasn’t to blame.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” said Bello. “I just wanted to try to perform, try to keep the team in the game so we can win, but unfortunately that inning happened.”
“That inning” was a five-run top of the first in which Toronto batted around. Under 98-degree heat, pesky bounces and an error helped Toronto build a lead it would never relinquish. George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette crossed home plate first for the Jays, but it was the lefties — Cavan Biggio and Ramiel Tapia — that fueled the fire.
“The first three, there’s nothing you can do, right? Weak contact, the ball hit the back, it’s bad luck,” said manager Alex Cora. “That’s part of the learning process, right? Sometimes the tough inning is in the sixth. Sometimes the tough at-bat is the third batter into the game.”
The Sox used two mound visits in the first to get their 23-year-old through, which he finally did by striking out Danny Jansen. But that came after Biggio’s two-run single (on which Franchy Cordero overran the ball in left-center) and Tapia’s bases-clearing triple into the triangle.
The five runs were the only ones Bello allowed. He lasted four innings, as he did in each of his starts against the Rays, allowing nine hits and two walks on 67 pitches.
“I don’t feel that good because things are not going how I hoped they would go,” Bello said. “I just need to keep working through my starts and keep getting better.”
The franchise’s top pitching prospect has made three starts, the prior two against Tampa Bay and all three ending in a loss.
One sour inning seems to be a trend with Bello. Three of the four runs he gave up in his July 6 debut came in the third inning, and the five in his July 11 start at Tropicana Field all scored in the first two innings.
“I need to work to try to limit those innings. Try to make those innings shorter and try to get away with fewer runs than the previous outings,” said Bello, who added that he was ready to pitch beyond the fourth.
Cora said Bello did “OK” after the first Sunday, and did a good job using his two-seamer against righties.
Lefthander Austin Davis said it’s good to see Bello learning, and that as pitchers rise through the system, it takes time to adjust to the way batters approach the plate.
“With a young pitcher, you want to come up and just immediately go nine shutout [innings], throw a perfect game, but that’s not the most important thing,” said Davis. “The most important thing is learning how to make the adjustment and then being ready to do that for your whole career, which is longer than three starts.”
Bello, who roared through Double A Portland and Triple A Worcester on his way to the majors, is looking ahead to his next opportunity.
“The ball wasn’t in my favor today,” he said. “Just need to keep learning and keep working, and be ready for the next start.”
Jayna Bardahl was a Globe intern in 2022. Follow her on Twitter @Jaynabardahl.