CINCINNATI — It is a time of auditions for the Red Sox. The team is looking beyond its immediate circumstances — a disappointing season destined to conclude in last place — in hopes of finding players who can be part of a better team in future years.
Against that backdrop, the nightly results — on Wednesday night in Cincinnati, a 5-1 loss to the rebuilding (58-90) Reds — have become almost immaterial. As much as players compete to win, games have become exercises in player development with the outcomes having no real meaning on whether this will be seen as a success or failure.
With the Red Sox looking at candidates to contribute to their 2023 pitching staff, the team turned to Connor Seabold, who was officially added to the roster from Triple A Worcester on Wednesday. Seabold joined Brayan Bello, Josh Winckowski, and Kutter Crawford as rookies who have made at least four starts this year – marking the first time since 1980 (John Tudor, Bruce Hurst, Bobby Ojeda, and Steve Crawford) that the Sox have had that many rookies getting that many rotation opportunities.
“For the future it’s going to make us better,” manager Alex Cora said before the game. “It teaches them that the league is tough. People are going to make adjustments, and you’re going to have to keep evolving, keep getting better.”
After Seabold struggled to an 11.91 ERA in June and July, the Sox gave him a checklist of to-do items when sending him back down to Triple A. High on the list was a more balanced mix of his pitches, a more consistent slider, and increased deployment of a changeup that can miss bats. Seabold took it to heart.
“I went down to Triple A with a bunch of stuff to work on, and I thought I did a really good job of coming back and showing the work I’ve done,” said Seabold.
Seabold showed promising results out of the gate, recording all three outs in a scoreless first by punchout, including two with his changeup. He also featured better velocity than he’d shown in his June and July outings, regularly working at 92-94 miles per hour.
Yet the swings-and-misses stopped after that frame, eventually making Seabold susceptible to offense by paper cuts and lemon juice, particularly as the Reds lineup got second and third looks against him.
A single and wild pitch set the stage for a Jonathan India RBI single in the third inning. After the Sox tied the game, 1-1, on an Alex Verdugo sacrifice fly in the fourth, Seabold saw his night take a turn with two outs in the fifth.
With a man on first, he uncorked another wild pitch and then issued a walk to put runners on first and second for India, who dumped an RBI single to shallow center to put the Reds up, 2-1. After India stole second, and with a shift putting three Sox infielders on the left side of second, Kyle Farmer got jammed but not beaten by a 91-m.p.h fastball on the hands. He blooped a single just over the dirt on the right side of the infield to plate another two runs and put the Reds ahead, 4-1.
While that rally led to a final accounting of four runs charged to Seabold in five innings, the outing was arguably his best in the big leagues. He pitched five full innings for the first time, he evaded hard contact (all six of the hits he allowed were singles, with an average exit velocity of just 73.9 m.p.h.), and he issued but one walk.
“It was good — good fastball, good off-speed pitches, slider was better than what I remembered early in the season. [The runs were] just bad luck,” said Cora, who noted that Seabold will make another start on Monday against the Orioles. “Overall, I think it was a good one.”
Reliever Franklin German, who allowed all four runners he faced in his big league debut to reach on Saturday, likewise showed improvement, throwing strikes while recording two critical firsts — his first big league out and first big league strikeout (a 99-m.p.h fastball) — in the eighth. He did allow a solo homer to Donovan Solano, but emerged with a ball from the strikeout that he’ll present to his father in New York this weekend.
“It felt good to get it by a big league hitter. I hope to do that many more times,” said German. “It felt good to get three outs. You can build off that.”
The Red Sox offense, meanwhile, looked somnambulant against Cincinnati starter Chase Anderson (three hits, no walks, and one run allowed over five innings to lower his ERA to 5.21) and the Reds bullpen. The Sox put two runners in scoring position over the entire game — both when Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts had back-to-back singles, first in the fourth inning and then again in the ninth.
The defeat snapped an eight-game Red Sox winning streak in Cincinnati that dated to 2008. While the offense was the primary culprit, the team’s record fell to 14-25 (.359) in games started by rookies, compared to 58-51 (.532) behind its more experienced starters.
Those struggles, the Sox hope, will represent the seeds of a better, deeper pitching staff and a team better built to withstand the attrition of the season. In 2022, they have been part of a march to a 72-76 record and a season nearing its conclusion.