A 9-7 loss at the hands of the Braves Tuesday evening was yet another reminder that this version of the Red Sox don’t have enough to contend.
Sox pitchers accounted for seven walks, marking the seventh time this year that the staff has handed out seven or more free passes in a contest. Their season high was 10 walks on July 1 against the Cubs.
That many bases on balls certainly isn’t a recipe for winning — heading into Wednesday night’s 8-4 series finale loss to Atlanta, the Sox were 0-12 when they issued six or more walks.
Compounding the issue, the timing of those walks has been jarring. Look at Tuesday, for instance: Six of the Sox’s seven walks came with two outs.
Rich Hill gave Atlanta’s Robbie Grossman a free two-out trip in the third inning. Ryan Brasier issued Matt Olson a two-out walk in the fifth. In the sixth, Matt Barnes tallied two quick outs but walked Orlando Arcia. The next batter, Michael Harris II made Barnes pay with an RBI double, tying the contest, 5-5. After a two-out walk to Ronald Acuña Jr., Barnes’s evening was finished. In the sixth, Hirokazu Sawamura relinquished two walks. You get the drift, both of them came with two outs.
Tuesday’s loss highlighted an issue that has plagued the Red Sox for much of the summer. The staff has issued 56 two-out free passes since July 1, the most in baseball during that span.
With two outs in the fourth inning Wednesday against the Braves, Nick Pivetta walked Eddie Rosario. The next batter, Marcell Ozuna, pummeled a three-run homer.
“I think at one point, 2-2 [count], the at-bat has to finish,” manager Alex Cora said before Wednesday’s game. “With two outs, OK, you took your shot [to strike the batter out], but when it’s 2-2, just finish it. Get closer to the strike zone and we’ve been way off the strike zone.”
Some of the Sox’ issues with two-out walks, Cora noted, have to do with the Sox missing strike throwers Matt Strahm, Nate Eovaldi, and Garrett Whitlock. Eovaldi spent much of June and part of July on the injured list, as did Whitlock. Strahm, meanwhile, went on the IL toward the middle of July where he still remains.
Injuries have forced the Sox to lean on young pitchers who still are learning the strike zone. Nonetheless, execution, or lack thereof, during those two-out moments unquestionably plays the biggest role.
“I think a lot of times it tends to be more mentality,” said pitching coach Dave Bush. “Just be able to stay calm in the moment whether it’s two outs or two strikes, staying within yourself. And part of it is staying focused, yeah, you got two quick outs but you got to stay locked in.”
Finding that balance can be arduous, especially when it’s a tight game like the Sox faced Tuesday. Some Sox pitchers have a tendency to let their guard down after registering the first two outs, while others try to force their way to a third out.
As the Sox go through what seems a never-ending rut, Bush reminds his pitchers to stick to their strengths.
“You just want them to focus on what they do best,” Bush said. “Like, ‘This is my strength. I’m gonna do this right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s two outs. It doesn’t matter if it’s two strikes. It doesn’t matter if guys are on base. This is what I do best.’ That’s when you can execute.”
Hernandez, Wacha, Danish on the mend
Kiké Hernández (right hip flexor strain) played in a rehab game for Double A Portland on Wednesday. He went 1 for 2 and played five innings in center field. He will play again Friday. Reliever Tyler Danish (right forearm strain) pitched a scoreless inning for Portland . . . Michael Wacha (right shoulder inflammation) came out of Tuesday’s rehab outing feeling good and could rejoin the team this weekend against the Yankees . . . Rich Hill will pitch out of the bullpen, beginning tomorrow, for the remainder of the week. Cora suggested it would be a temporary move after Hill volunteered, knowing the team was short on bullpen arms . . . Tanner Houck (lower back inflammation) is still undergoing testing and the team is still gathering information … Eric Hosmer (knee contusion) is still considered day to day. He was out of the lineup Wednesday . . . Braves top outfield prospect Vaughn Grissom made his big league debut with Arcia on the injured list. Vaughn’s first big league hit came in the seventh inning, a two-run homer off Darwinzon Hernandez, stretching his team’s lead to 5-1.