SEATTLE — Through Friday — which accounted for 22 percent of the season — the Red Sox were hitting .205 with runners in scoring position with a .658 OPS.
It was the lowest batting average in the American League and the second-lowest OPS, and in Saturday night’s 4-2 win over the Mariners, they went 1 for 6 in such situations.
It’s a team-wide problem. Through Friday, David Ortiz (.143), Dustin Pedroia (.171), Mike Napoli (.172), Pablo Sandoval (.192), and Hanley Ramirez (.192) were the worst offenders and they usually make up the 2-6 hitters in the order.
The league average was .261 with a .757 OPS.
“You can’t say it’s one thing across the board. The bottom line is the result,” manager John Farrell said before the game. “Whether or not there’s been overswinging of the bat in certain cases or pulling off at times, we’re best when we use the whole field.”
Part of it is misfortune. The Sox were hitting .212 on balls put in play with runners in scoring position, well below the league average of .293. The next lowest team is Texas at .250.
“We’ve hit balls hard at people,” Napoli said. “We haven’t had any bloopers fall in it seems. We need to run into a couple of those.”
Napoli said the Sox don’t change their approach with runners on base.
“You’re trying to stay up the middle,” he said. “It’s not like we’re doing something unusual. Our guys have done it before. It’s going to come around. You’ll see some 10-hoppers through the infield.”
The inability to hit in the clutch has the Sox 10th in the American League in runs scored through Friday, well below what was projected.
Over time, the Sox should get closer to the league average, but they did hit .237 with runners in scoring position last year with what was supposed to be a good lineup.
“Ultimately that guy in the box is his own best coach,” Farrell said. “They’re seasoned, proven hitters. We’re confident that that will turn.”
On second thought
The Sox lost, 2-1, on Friday night when Nelson Cruz singled in a run with two outs in the ninth inning.
With first base open, Farrell elected to bring in Junichi Tazawa to face the hottest hitter in the American League. One alternative would have been to stay with lefthander Tommy Layne, intentionally walk Cruz, and pitch to lefthanded-hitting Kyle Seager.
Even when Tazawa fell behind, 2 and 1, in the count, Farrell pressed on.
After the game, before a question could be asked, Farrell admitted his mistake.
“Terrible decision on my part,” he said. “I own that one.”
A day later, Farrell explained his decision: Cruz had struck out three times in the game and he felt like Seager looked good at the plate. Seager had grounded out twice and singled.
Cruz also was 1 for 8 against Tazawa in his career.
“I thought it was a chance for our pitching staff to go after the heart of their order,” Farrell said. “In hindsight, we know the answer to that. But it was a chance for us to take another step forward in our own confidence as a group. That was a small, small part of that.”
Farrell wanted Tazawa to throw the 3-and-2 pitch in the dirt. The pitch was up and Cruz lined it to left field.
“Bounce another split. Unfortunately, the split didn’t bounce,” Farrell said.
Farrell then grimaced.
“I got off the ledge this morning at 8,” he said.
On the move
The Sox have 10 sacrifice bunts through 37 games, four in their last six games. They had 20 sacrifices last season, 24 in 2013.
“[It’s] situational and personnel,” Farrell said. “The game is what puts it in your hand. You’re late in the game, you’ve got to get a man into scoring position, we’re not averse to doing it.”
Farrell believes it’s part of how the game is changing with pitchers being more dominant, especially relievers. The Sox worked more on bunting in spring training than they have in the past.
The Sox didn’t appear to have a team in need of much bunting when the season started. But that has changed quickly as they struggled to score.
“You go back to the game situation,” Farrell said. “Sure, did I think that our offense would be more consistent than what we’ve shown? Yes, and we’ll realize that in time. But where we are and what the game is presenting to us, we’ve got to be equipped to handle that. We’ve asked guys in those spots to lay a bunt down.”
For years, the Sox eschewed bunts in the belief that an out was too valuable to give up. But the difficulty in scoring runs has led to an increase in small-ball strategy by many teams.
Victorino gets break
Shane Victorino was out of the lineup Saturday with a planned day off. He was 5 of 14 in his first four games since coming off the disabled list with three runs, two extra-base hits, a walk, and an RBI. He also stole a base.
The plan is to start Victorino primarily against lefthanders. He should be back in the lineup Sunday against James Paxton.
“I think he really started to settle in,” Farrell said. “It was a little bit of a boost for him and he certainly carried it into the first couple of games [in Seattle].”
The Red Sox and Mariners wore Negro League uniforms from the 1940s during the game. The Sox paid tribute to the Boston Colored Giants, wearing a gray uniform with black trim and “Boston” in block letters across the front, along with plain blue caps. The Mariners wore the cream-colored uniform of the Seattle Steelheads. The Steelheads were a short-lived team in the West Coast Negro Baseball League . . . Jackie Bradley Jr. was in the lineup, playing center field. Batting ninth, he went 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Since being called up, he has started against R.A. Dickey, Sonny Gray, and Felix Hernandez. “Welcome to the major leagues,” Farrell said. Bradley is 0 for 11 since his promotion . . . Celtics legend Bill Russell, a longtime resident of the Seattle area, was scheduled to throw out the first pitch but was a late scratch. Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders and the US national soccer team is scheduled to throw out the first pitch Sunday. Dempsey played for the Revolution from 2004-06.