When the Red Sox starting pitching struggled over the opening weeks of this season, that problem begat a second issue. Already going through 2019 without a traditional closer, the Boston bullpen found itself taxed less than a month in.
That made David Price’s sparkler Sunday badly needed. Price (1-1, 3.79 ERA) went seven innings on an efficient 92 pitches, 64 of them for strikes. He gave up no runs and only three hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. More, he set things up nicely for Ryan Brasier to pitch the eighth and Matt Barnes to pitch the ninth in an economical 4-0 Red Sox win against the Orioles.
“Everybody knew where we were pitching-wise today and for [Price] to go seven, give the ball to those last two guys, it was very important for us,” said manager Alex Cora. “Now tomorrow we kind of reset and we’re ready for the game tomorrow.”
Baltimore starter John Means went five innings and gave up just one run but the Red Sox did the bulk of their scoring against Orioles relievers in the eighth inning when Xander Bogaerts hit a hanging slider off Josh Lucas to the batter’s eye for a three-run home run.
“I was looking for off-speed the whole at-bat,” Bogaerts said. “After he threw me that first slider I thought [darn], I might be struck out right now because his first slider was nasty. It was down and away and I was like, wow, that’s pretty tough. That last one he just left it in the middle and I’m happy I didn’t foul it off because I definitely would have been in the dugout.”
Bogaerts (2 for 3, 4 RBIs) drove in the other Red Sox run in the fourth inning, sending Steve Pearce home on a sacrifice fly.
One of Boston’s seven hits was a double by Andrew Benintendi in the third inning. Benintendi was supposed to have the day off but was inserted into the lineup, batting leadoff, because Jackie Bradley Jr. was out with the flu. Benintendi’s hit came after a scary moment when he fouled a ball hard off the top of his right foot, crumpled to the ground and lay there for more than a minute. Benintendi finished his at-bat but was replaced by Blake Swihart in the fourth inning. He got X-rays, which were negative, and was diagnosed with a right foot contusion. He is day-to-day.
Both Brasier and Barnes could have been sharper in their relief efforts. Brasier had runners on first and third with two outs in the eighth but escaped when Dwight Smith lined out to Mookie Betts. Barnes gave up a single and a walk and needed 24 pitches for the ninth inning but struck out Chris Davis looking with a 97-mph fastball to end the game.
With Rick Porcello not making it out of the fifth inning Saturday and Hector Velazquez expected to pitch only four or five innings Monday, Price needed to have the kind of start he did.
Cora said he talked to his starter during the sixth inning and Price said he was in good shape to keep pitching. Price allowed doubles to lead off both the sixth and seventh innings but both times prevented the runners from advancing.
“I knew the situation, I knew that in Arizona as well, knowing the next game was going to be a bullpen day,” Price said. “Got to eat up as many innings as possible and we were able to put up zeroes today so that was big for us.”
Because of that, the Red Sox will return to Fenway on Monday in better shape than they were when they got to the park on Sunday: With a chance to win the series against the Orioles and with a better-rested bullpen. First pitch against the Orioles is 11:05 a.m.