Ryan Dempster managed to navigate his way through the first inning in an economical fashion, needing only 15 pitches to get the first four batters he faced.
But in the next two innings, Dempster’s pitch count resembled the tote board of a pinball machine run amok, as he needed 30 pitches to get out of the second and 40 to weather a three-run Cleveland outburst in the third. It resulted in the premature end of Dempster’s night in Thursday’s humbling 12-3 loss to the Indians in the opener of this four-game series before 35,254 at Fenway Park.
“He obviously threw a lot of pitches,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “It’s a good-hitting ball club and they were coming in here hot, so we couldn’t make too many mistakes. You know, a ball falls in [in the second inning] and gives them the lead, but he did a great job to come back.
“But I think that last inning was just too many pitches.’’
Dempster’s total for the night: 85 pitches, 52 strikes.
Dempster absorbed the loss, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks. He struck out four batters in a season-low three innings of work.
Dempster posted a 2.93 ERA (14 earned runs over 43 innings) in his first seven starts of the season, but has compiled a 10.66 ERA (15 earned runs over 12⅔ innings) in his last three outings, a pair of losses and a no decision in a 12-5 victory at Minnesota in his last start, last Saturday.
It was an outing in which Dempster, whose pitch count climbed to a season-high 127 pitches, departed with a 7-5 lead after 4⅔ innings but wasn’t eligible for the win because he had pitched less than five innings.
Thursday night against the Tribe, Dempster’s stint didn’t preclude him from taking the loss, the first of his career against Cleveland, which dropped his record to 2-5 with a 4.69 ERA.
“We’re seeing consistent arm strength,’’ said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “We’re seeing the same velocity, so obviously it is command. He’s had a number of walks  over the past three outings. Today, with two very extended innings, it was time to obviously get him out of there after the third inning.
“But tonight, it was a matter of consistent command,’’ Farrell said. “Even in his first seven starts or so, there was no unwillingness on his part to use the entire count and not give in to hitters. But when he’s needed to go get a slider or a split for a strike, that’s where that command of his secondary stuff has been elusive for him.’’
But, as far as Dempster was concerned, there was no great mystery behind his struggles of late.
“Well, the command’s been terrible,’’ he said. “I have to fix that. I can’t allow myself to get into that kind of trouble and throw 40-something pitches.’’
Was the fix mechanical? “It’s just practice,’’ he said. “Just practice.’’
Pressed on what he felt he needed to work on, Dempster said, tersely, “Throwing quality pitches.’’
In this case, the quantity of Dempster’s pitches seemed to overshadow the quality of his work.
“He made a pretty good pitch to [Mark] Reynolds that I don’t know how he found the gap,’’ Saltalamacchia said, referring to the 91 mile-per-hour fastball Dempster threw to the Indians designated hitter, who laced it up the middle for a two-run single that made it 4-0. “But when you’re hot, you’re hot. And that’s happens.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.