BALTIMORE — When the Red Sox construct their rotation for 2015, it’s likely at least one spot will be saved for a young starter from within the organization.
The candidates are plentiful, with nearly a dozen prospects scattered from Double A up to the majors. Some will be traded, others sent to the bullpen, and a few will probably fade away. But which ones profile best as starters isn’t clear yet, even with the Red Sox running what amounts to a tryout camp these days.
Rubby De La Rosa, who looked like a keeper a few weeks ago, struggled again on Saturday night in a 7-2 loss against the Baltimore Orioles. It was part of a trend.
De La Rosa and fellow prospects Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman have made 49 starts this season and are 12-23 with a 5.06 earned run average, 1.48 WHIP and only 6.01 strikeouts per nine innings. Not one of them has stood up and put a claim on a job next season, only occasional flashes.
“What that group is learning along the way is that it’s a sizable jump from Triple A to here,” manager John Farrell said. “The ability to go through a lineup three times is a challenge. That comes down to consistency from pitch to pitch. It’s not a matter of stuff, it’s a matter of learning the challenges of a major league lineup.
“They’re all candidates. How strong they are is going to be is different from guy to guy. Part of what we’re trying to get our arms around this September is some kind of [preference] order to that group.”
The pitchers know what’s at stake.
“Anybody would be lying if they said there’s not a competition,” Ranaudo said. “But you have to be more concerned with what you can do rather than trying to outperform somebody else. That’s how I try to take it.”
De La Rosa (4-8) saw his ERA climb to 4.50 as he allowed four runs on six hits over four innings. Adam Jones had two home runs for Baltimore, one off De La Rosa.
Farrell said before the game that De La Rosa would get one more start, either Thursday or Friday. But given how he has pitched of late, the offseason can’t come soon enough for the 25-year-old righthander.
Counting the minors, De La Rosa has thrown a career-high 161 innings and the Red Sox have trimmed his workload in recent weeks. But that hasn’t aided his performance.
De La Rosa was 4-5 with a 3.69 ERA in his first 13 starts, but was 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA in the five starts since. The high-end fastball is still there but not the location.
“I think the biggest thing is the mechanics of my pitches. I’ve tried to do the same thing. But I think something happened,” De La Rosa said.
Said Farrell: “He’s got very good stuff; he’s still showing good velocity. The consistency to the overall execution is what’s missing right now.”
The Sox were held to six hits by three Baltimore pitchers with 16 of their final 17 batters going down. A year to the day they clinched the American League East, the 67-88 Red Sox clinched last place in the division. Their collapse is complete.
The Red Sox gave De La Rosa a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Mookie Betts, who has settled in well as a leadoff hitter, drew a walk against Chris Tillman before David Ortiz homered.
Ortiz stayed back on a breaking pitch and drove it the other way to left field for his 35th home run, the third in two nights. He has 466 career home runs, two away from tying Chipper Jones for 32d all-time.
Ortiz was 2 for 24 against Tillman before the homer.
De La Rosa loaded the bases with one out in the second on a walk and two singles. He then struck out Nick Hundley and Jonathan Schoop swinging, both on full-count changeups.
The next two innings were ugly for De La Rosa as he allowed four runs on four hits, three of them for extra bases.
Delmon Young singled ahead of Jones’s first home run in the third inning, a blast to center. Rookie first baseman Christian Walker hit his first career home run in the fourth inning, also to center.
Ryan Flaherty doubled, moved up on a groundout, and scored on a squeeze down the first-base line by Schoop.
Heath Hembree started the fifth inning for the Sox. In his first appearance in the majors since Aug. 26, Hembree gave up a single to Young before Jones (27 homers, 91 RBIs) homered to left-center.
The Orioles kept scoring against another Red Sox rookie in the seventh. Alejandro De Aza and Young led off with singles against Steven Wright. With one out, Nelson Cruz lined a ball over the head of Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field for an RBI double.
Bradley, starting in right field for the first time since May 3, got a bad jump, missed a leaping catch, then slipped chasing the ball. It was a rare mistake in the field for him.
Tillman (13-5) retired the final 10 batters he faced. He allowed two runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. He is 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA in five starts against the Sox this season.