ANAHEIM, Calif. — James Paxton was due for a start like Wednesday’s.
He lasted just three innings against the Angels, his shortest outing this year, and was thumped for five runs (all earned) in the Red Sox’ 7-3 loss.
The lefthander came out firing in his first two starts back from the injured list, tossing a combined 11 innings and yielding just three runs. He dominated with his fastball, averaging 96.2 miles per hour on his heavy four-seamer, which he relied on 60 percent of the time. While his command wavered at times, he held opponents to a .214 batting average and struck out 10 on his heater.
But Paxton had no answers for the Angels, who completed a three-game sweep. He flashed his four-seamer 35 times, but failed to draw a single swing and miss.
“Fastball command just wasn’t good tonight,” Paxton said. “I was missing with it and wasn’t able to get ahead. I didn’t have quite the same life on it as I did in the previous two games, I don’t think. I’ll rest up and get ready for the next one.”
Paxton was crisp in the first inning, negotiating a 1-2-3 frame and striking out both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. The highlight of that inning was the at-bat against Ohtani, when Paxton froze him with two four-seamers low and away before getting Ohtani to chase on a cutter to end the frame.
But the trouble began for Paxton in the second when he issued a four-pitch walk to Hunter Renfroe, his first of three on the evening.
A Brandon Drury double put runners in scoring position and Gio Urshela took advantage of the situation, registering a sacrifice fly to score the first run of the game. Paxton struck out Luis Rengifo but failed to put away the bottom two hitters in the order. The lefthander gifted Chad Wallach a free pass and paid the price when Zach Neto launched a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw.
Ohtani got his revenge in the third with a solo shot of his own.
Both Paxton and Chris Sale have benefitted from a six-man rotation that gives the two starters an extra day of rest as they work their way back from injury. Yet this time around, Paxton only had five days.
However Paxton didn’t necessarily see the one fewer day of rest as an issue.
“Sometimes you just don’t have it,” Paxton said. “I was out there battling, trying to get outs and it just wasn’t happening for me tonight.”
The 5-0 lead proved to be a steep hill for the Red Sox to climb, considering the sputtering offense over the last week or so. In the Sox’ last 32 innings heading into Wednesday, they managed to score just one run.
That carried into Wednesday. Lefthander Tyler Anderson lasted six innings, holding the Sox to just a run on a Kiké Hernández RBI double in the fourth.
Manager Alex Cora was encouraged by his team’s at-bats Wednesday, but the club ultimately tallied just four hits and were 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position. The Sox registered just 10 hits total in the three-game series.
“We’re an aggressive group,” hitting coach Pete Fatse said. “We hit the fastball pretty well. I think teams kind of have started to mix and match a little bit, the last few games specifically. But it’s just the regular ebbs and flows of the season.”
The Angels like the long ball, entering this series ranked 10th in homers with 60. They remained true to form, belting seven in three games against the Sox, including Mike Trout’s solo shot in the fourth off Nick Pivetta, marking the center fielder’s second homer in as many nights.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, were without a homer in three games before Connor Wong sent a solo shot off Reyes Moronta in the seventh.
The club will have an off day Thursday before resuming the final leg of this west coast trip in Arizona Friday with a three-game set against the Diamondbacks. Cora believes the day off will benefit his bunch.
“Hang out, play some golf, watch the [Celtics] game at night and enjoy it,” he said.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.