The season-long wait for the Red Sox’ starting rotation to become elite continues.
It was supposed to happen long before this. At least that was the plan at the start of the season, that a Big Three of Chris Sale, David Price, and defending American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello would dominate the league. That may still happen, but right now it isn’t close. Price is still finding himself, battling through cracked fingernails and blisters, and Porcello just hasn’t got that Cy Young feeling again.
A 4-1 loser on Wednesday to the Twins, Porcello, now 4-10 with a 5.06 ERA, wasn’t horrible, but he wasn’t dominant. either. He lasted six innings, allowed four runs on six hits, and was as average as his line indicated. Porcello has allowed four or more runs in 10 starts this year, the most in the big leagues.
As a result, the Red Sox couldn’t create daylight between themselves and the Yankees, who beat the White Sox, 12-3, to creep percentage points ahead in the AL East. The Sox keep missing opportunities to assert themselves in a division longing for a leader.
But with the disappointing pitching comes disappointing hitting. The Red Sox avoided being shut out thanks to Xander Bogaerts’s bases-loaded ground ball out in the seventh, but there are nights when the offense can’t seem to get a big hit. And Wednesday was one of those nights. The Sox were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
The Red Sox had an ideal opportunity to erase a 4-0 deficit when they loaded the bases in the seventh with one out on a Sandy Leon single and walks to Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia. But they got just one run out of it. Just one more hit might have saved Porcello from his 10th loss, but Mitch Moreland struck out to end the inning.
And there was no comeback.
The Sox just couldn’t muster anything against Twins starter Adalberto Mejia, who held them scoreless for 5⅔ innings. Three relievers allowed just one run, with Brandon Kintzler recording his 21st save.
Porcello wasn’t happy but he didn’t sound defeated.
“You can recover from two runs but you can’t recover from four or five runs,” Porcello said. “I felt confident to stick with the game plan and hope it would pan out and it did until the sixth inning, when my pitch count got up a bit.”
For the eighth time this season, Porcello did not receive one run of support, the opposite of what happened last season.
“Six innings, four runs: it’s not like they’re hitting the cover off the ball,’’ he said. “I’m not making excuses for myself. I hold myself accountable for the loss tonight, but in the grand scheme of things I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing and at the end of the day keep fighting and help this club win games every fifth day.”
Porcello said he wasn’t going to keep harping on his struggles.
“I’ve got to start in five days and keep looking forward rather than think about [bleep] from the past,” he said.
Porcello allowed three earned runs in 6⅓ innings in earning the win his last time out against the Angels, his first victory since May 23. Between wins, he was 0-4 with a 6.46 ERA.
In the what-a-difference-a-year-makes category, opponents were batting .315 against Porcello, compared with a career-best .230 last season. His .371 opponents’ average for batted balls in play was the highest in the majors entering the night.
The first-inning bug bit Porcello again on Wednesday, as he allowed two more runs in what has been his worst inning, except for the seventh, this season. Porcello had allowed a .343 average and a .925 OPS to batters even before the Twins got two with two outs in the first.
Joe Mauer, who has faced Porcello more than any other pitcher except for Justin Verlander, stroked an opposite field double to left, no surprise considering Mauer has only pulled just over 29 percent of his at-bats this season, the lowest pull rate in the majors.
Mauer scored on Miguel Sano’s double to left, ending an 0-for-16 (seven strikeouts) drought for the large third baseman. Max Kepler followed with a single to right to plate the second run.
Kepler smacked a two-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen in the sixth when Porcello’s fastball stayed up in the zone, giving the Twins a 4-0 lead.
The Sox wasted Jackie Bradley Jr.’s one-out double in the second. They put the first two batters on base in the third when Deven Marrero and Betts singled, but Twins starter Adalberto Mejia retired the next three batters, including Bogaerts and Moreland on strikeouts, to get out of a big jam.
Inning after inning it was difficult to figure why the Red Sox couldn’t mount anything against Mejia, who entered with a 4.93 ERA and hadn’t wowed anyone. He was able to maneuver his fastball, slider, and changeup and change arm angles to the point where Sox hitters were kept off balance. The Twins acquired Mejia last season from the Giants.
Mejia pitched five shutout innings against the Indians last Friday, so the good times continued. He avoided walking the first batter of innings, and that seemed to make the difference.
“He changed his arm slot against our lefties and did a good job against our hitters,” Farrell said. “On a night when we couldn’t score the four runs proved tough for us to come back from.”
More photos from Wednesday night’s Red Sox game