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Nick Cafardo | On baseball

After season-opening series, hitters have to play catch-up ball

J.D. Martinez followed through on this RBI-single off Tampa Bay starting pitcher Jake Faria during the fifth inning of the Red Sox’ 2-1 victory Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
J.D. Martinez followed through on this RBI-single off Tampa Bay starting pitcher Jake Faria during the fifth inning of the Red Sox’ 2-1 victory Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla.Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — What we’re going to hear is it’s early, the team won three out of four and Tampa Bay’s pitching was a lot better than anyone’s given them credit for and of course, the oldie but goody, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters.

Oh yes, we’re already hearing how negative we are in the media to dwell on the team’s lack of offense amid such an excellent start, first place in the AL East. But an issue is an issue. It didn’t come into play this time, but if it continues, it will be an issue. After all, this team had to go out and spend $110 million on a home run hitter (J.D. Martinez) because they needed to fix their impotent power numbers.

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“We probably could be a lot more aggressive than we’ve been,” said Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers following a a2-1 win over the Rays. “That will come. They (the Rays) did pitch well. We had some hitters coming back shaking their heads a bit, but we did square up some balls and hit some balls hard so that’s a good sign.”

A sentiment echoed by manager Alex Cora, who will take three out of four wins, including three one-run victories which was a sore spot for this team a year ago.

“This lineup will hit,” said Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez, who was out of Sunday’s lineup. “We’re just a little bit off. We’’’ get there, but the good thing is you have to give a lot of credit to our pitching. They’ve really kept us in the games and they’ve allowed us to win those games. We’ve got to score more runs and have those big innings. We haven’t had that but we still won.”

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The Red Sox are hitting .214 over the first four games with 12 extra-base hits – 10 doubles and two homers. Not exactly what you’re looking for, but so far the offensive slump hasn’t hurt. In fact, if it wasn’t for the bullpen implosion on Opening Day, the Red Sox would have swept. They actually scored four runs in that one and had a 4-0 lead heading into the eighth inning.

“Yeah, we haven’t been able to give our pitchers some breathing room, but we’re winning the games and that’s what’s important. We want to score more runs and we need to get that done,” Mookie Betts said.

Cora had said he pretty much had the lineups planned out a few days ahead in this series. He wanted to keep some people off their feet on the hard Tropicana Field turf and so even this early in the season, Cora experimented with things. All of Boston’s positional players have now played after Blake Swihart (1-for-3) got to DH in Sunday’s 2-1 win.

Don’t know about you, but these games with Tampa Bay were awfully close, much closer than they should have been, but that’s because the Sox offense just couldn’t muster a big inning in the four game series while Tampa Bay scored nine runs in the four games and six of them coming in one inning on Opening Day. The Red Sox scored 10 runs. Is that because Tampa’s pitching has been much better than advertised or because Boston’s hitting hasn’t woken up? These are normal early-season questions, but it’s obvious that the launch angle concept hasn’t taken hold quite yet.

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The Sunday lineup was particularly curious because even though Rays’ starter Jake Faria is a righthander, he’s able to eat up lefthanded hitters with a killer changeup holding them to a .179 average and a .559 OPS last season. His changeup has been virtually unhittable by lefthanded batters, who hit .135 against it. Only Max Scherzer’s .110, Stephen Strasburg’s .128 and Carlos Carrasco’s .130 were nastier.

Cora decided to sit Andrew Beinintendi who has started the season 0-for-11. Faria exited after allowing a J.D. Martinez RBI single in the fifth inning but he had held lefthanded hitters 1-for-8 with three walks. The only lefthanded hit off him was an opposite field hit by Blake Swihart in the fourth inning.

Later, Devers singled in the go-ahead run with a bases loaded single in the sixth, but like last year, the Red Sox got a run thrown out at the plate when Brock Holt tried to score from second base.

We’ve seen some life out of Martinez the past couple of days after he started the season 0-for-6.

Martinez was supposed to be the missing ingredient in the Sox lineup – the power source – but that machine hasn’t been cranked up just yet. The Red Sox hit two homers in four games – one of them Eduardo Nunez’ home run and the other a Xander Bogaerts ‘outside the park’ homer.

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“Four games and no home runs?” I kidded Martinez.

“I knew that was coming,” Martinez smiled.

The other bad thing is that the Sox are now 6-for-36 (.167) with runners in scoring position. They’ve had their share of base runners, but don’t often capitalize. They were 2-for-10 on Sunday and left 11 runners on base. One hit away in so many cases.

Hitting, of course, can be contagious. Right now leaving runners on base is an epidemic.

The baseball adage of being as good as your pitching is certainly true. The Red Sox have won with pitching and lost with it over the first four games. As they head into Miami which has been playing extra inning games and could have a depleted pitching staff, now could be the time to take advantage of the situation.

Then again, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. Tampa Bay’s pitchers were really good. We’ve heard it all before, but it’s too early to complain, right?


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.