It’s early in the season and the Red Sox already have a stolen base problem.
The Orioles swiped five bags against the Red Sox Thursday afternoon on Opening Day at Fenway Park. Three of the steals came in the fifth inning with reliever Ryan Brasier on the hill. Baltimore swiped another five bags Saturday in the Sox’ 9-8 win, with Reese McGuire behind the plate for the second straight game.
It’s the first time a Red Sox team has allowed at least five steals in back-to-back games.
“One of the things, they stole five but you have to take a look at who did did it. [Jorge] Mateo led the league in steals and [Cedric] Mullins stole [34 bags],” manager Alex Cora said before Saturday’s game. “First things first, avoid so many runners. Fifteen hits, 9 walks, 1 hit batsmen, so there was a lot of traffic. Do we have to do a better job? Yes.”
The Sox came into the year short in the catching department after chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said at last season’s end the position would be a priority. The Sox settled on McGuire, Connor Wong, and Jorge Alfaro, who opened the season with Triple A Worcester.
The pitch clock, certainly, will be an issue for some of the Red Sox relievers who are especially slow to the plate. The longer they take to deliver the ball within that 20-second window, the more comfortable base runners become.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde echoed echoed those sentiments and added Thursday’s game had more to do with who was on base. Nonetheless, Hyde knows the new rules, including bigger bases and a limited number of times a pitcher can attempt a pickoff (three), could work to his team’s advantage.
“Stolen bases are [going to] go up because of the new rules,” said Hyde, whose team was tied for 11th in the majors last year in stolen bases (95). “Pitchers are hamstrung on what they can do.”
The Red Sox must adjust.
“It’s a continued work in progress as far as being quicker to the plate with the slide steps or just our deliveries, getting a little bit quicker to the plate,” McGuire said after Saturday’s win. “But also using the clock to our advantage, holding the ball a little bit longer, mixing up our times, things like that. But for the first couple of games, we’re facing a team that runs probably more than a lot of teams do in the league.
“I think it’s definitely something we’ll be better at.”
Houck up next
Tanner Houck’s forgettable spring will officially be behind him when he takes the mound to start Sunday’s series finale.
Certainly spring stats, good or bad, don’t necessarily translate to season success or failure. And Houck is still working his way back from back surgery.
Nevertheless, Houck’s outings throughout camp were somewhat alarming. The righthander posted a 9.74 ERA in six starts, allowing 22 runs (all earned). Houck also walked 12, hit five batters, and relinquished nine home runs. For context, in 146 career innings, he’s allowed just eight homers.
Houck relies on flexibility. It’s what, in part, makes him so difficult for hitters to pick up. Coming off the back injury, the flexibility isn’t totally there yet.
“It’s always a work in progress,” pitching coach Dave Bush said. “Back issues are tough. He tried to pitch through it a lot of last year and it was tough. He’ll be ready. He’ll be fine. This is part of the routine for him all the time.”
Mechanics are still a work in progress, too. Houck noted recently that because of his long frame (6 feet 5 inches, 230 pounds) everything must be in synch. It takes a lot for his arm to get going, and during the spring, Houck was too quick on his front side.
“We’ve been working on a few things here and there — not anything super, super major, but just tightening up some of the movements so he can be a little more consistent,” Bush said. “He fights this all the time, as long as he’s been in pro ball.
“Part of the issue is his size and his flexibility. The things that make him good are the things that are challenging for him also. He has deception and makes the ball do things that not a lot of guys can do, but he also can get in ruts where he has a hard time controlling his body.”
Trio good to go in minors
Three Sox starters are on schedule for minor league rehab appearances this week.
Lefthander James Paxton (hamstring) is scheduled to pitch Tuesday for Triple A Worcester at Buffalo, followed by righthander Brayan Bello (forearm) Wednesday. After starting Opening Day Friday for Worcester, righthander Garrett Whitlock (hip) is scheduled to pitch again Thursday when Double A Portland opens its season at home.
There’s a strong chance Whitlock will join the big league team following that start.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.