Josh Winckowski entered the sixth inning against the Orioles Thursday night with the best game of his career brewing. He had pitched five scoreless innings, as he did June 15 against Oakland, but this time the Sox sent him out for a sixth.
Baltimore was at the top of its lineup and Cedric Mullins singled to centerfield to start things off. Adley Rutschman walked on a 3-1 count before the Red Sox tallied two outs, drawing anticipation that the rookie righthander might just make it through.
But after a Terrin Vavra triple, the game flipped. Right fielder Austin Hays hit a short ball to Winckowski that the pitcher scooped up, but sent a delayed toss to first that gave Hays an infield RBI single.
Winckowski’s night grew cold when he left the game, 3-3, after 5⅔ innings. Austin Davis would come in as relief.
Manager Alex Cora said the Sox kept Winckowski in against Vavra because “if we go too early and something happens, then we were very short.” The Sox bullpen is lacking depth and Cora said the team is working to get more than five innings out of its starters.
“The bullpen has been working a lot lately so every time you enter an outing you’re always trying to get as many outs as you can and help those guys out just like they help us out,” Winckowski said. “It’s always something that’s on your mind.”
The Sox rallied for a 4-3 win in Boston’s first — and absurd — series win against an AL East opponent.
Winckowski allowed three earned runs and six hits. He tied his highest strike count of the season at 63, on 93 pitches.
“He doesn’t make the play at the end but overall good performance,” Cora said. “Good fastballs today, good sinker and gave us a chance to win.”
Thursday’s performance was a pleasant follow-up act for Winckowski after he held the Royals scoreless in Kansas City through his first 4⅔ innings Aug. 5. The 24-year-old entered his 11th start with a 4.68 ERA and a chance to squash some growing pains against a familiar opponent.
After being traded to the Sox in 2021, Winckowski was first recalled from Triple-A Worcester May 28 for Boston’s doubleheader against the Orioles. His major league debut came in the second game, a 4-2 loss, in which he pitched three innings, allowing six hits and all of Baltimore’s runs.
This time though, Winckowski said he felt more comfortable. He has been with Boston since his second call up June 15 and was gunning for his third straight start of more than five innings.
This Baltimore team may be different after rallying on a mid-July hot streak, but so is he.
“Getting more familiar with what is working up here,” Winckowski said.
“Some stuff you do in Triple-A doesn’t work up here and then some stuff you weren’t doing in Triple-A does work up here. The glove side two-seam has kind of been the big thing that I feel like I’ve added as of late.”
Winckowski is just the third Red Sox rookie to make at least 10 starts since 2016, joining Tanner Houck in 2021 (13) and Brian Johnson in 2018 (13).
Matt Barnes, who pitched the seventh inning for the Sox, said Winckowski “threw the ball great” despite the cracks that showed at the end.
“You’re going to look back and it’s going to be one pitch, right?” Barnes said.
“I thought overall he commanded the strike zone incredibly well and was able to go deep into the game and put us in a position to win a ball game.”
Jayna Bardahl was a Globe intern in 2022. Follow her on Twitter @Jaynabardahl.