When the Red Sox traded for Andrew Cashner, they were hoping the burly righthander would replicate the success he had in Baltimore over the first 3½ months of the season.
Cashner, who went 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA last year, opened this season 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. If he wasn’t that guy, the Red Sox were betting that he wouldn’t slip back to 2018 level.
He’s slipping and sliding, and after Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Royals, he was lamenting “one of the toughest stretches of my career.”
Dave Dombrowski’s lone July acquisition gave up a season-high three homers over 5⅓ innings, each one of them hammered out of the yard.
The Red Sox (60-56), losers of nine of their last 10, are six games back of Tampa Bay in the wild-card race. Boston fell to four games over .500. In the heat of August, the Red Sox are arguably the coldest team in baseball.
Cashner coughed up seven hits, six earned runs, two walks, and a wild pitch. He struck out four, touching 96.2 miles per hour with his fastball, but the Royals were locked in.
Jorge Soler (twice) and Ryan O’Hearn crushed mistakes for homers.
“It’s been tough,” said Cashner, who has given up seven homers in five starts with Boston, after allowing 11 in 17 starts with Baltimore. “I think over the course of my career I’ve been good at limiting damage. I haven’t done a good job of that since I’ve been here. Mistakes are too up in the zone. I haven’t really done a lot of things well.
“We still have a month and a half left.”
It will be a slog to the finish if Boston keeps pitching this way, and the offense continues to come up dry. Andrew Benintendi’s RBI single in the third and Christian Vazquez’s RBI double in the eighth were the only breakthroughs Tuesday.
After going 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position, the Sox are 8 for 48 in their last seven games (.167). Manager Alex Cora said his players were chasing pitches out of the strike zone.
They didn’t produce enough, but another common theme — a Red Sox starter floundering — certainly continued. Including Cashner’s latest dud, Boston starters have allowed six or more runs six times in their last 10 games. Their ERA in that span is 9.50.
The new guy looked stout at the outset, facing the minimum through three innings. He lost it in the fourth. Cashner (1-4, 7.53 as a Red Sox starter) had retired six in a row when he issued a two-out walk in that inning. The next batter, Soler, put the first pitch he saw over everything in left. It left the bat at 110.8 m.p.h., the fifth-hardest hit ball off Cashner this year.
In the fifth, O’Hearn pulled a missile to right. The readout: 111.1 m.p.h. That was fourth-hardest-hit ball in play off Cashner, who has allowed multiple homers three times in five starts for the Red Sox. He did so once in 17 starts with the Orioles.
The Royals (41-74), who entered the night 31 games back in the AL Central, made it 6-1 in the sixth, on a Hunter Dozier RBI single, and Soler’s second homer of the night, a rainbow blast off a left-field banner, some 20 feet over the heads of last-row Green Monster spectators.
“Tried to throw a slider away and I hung it,” Cashner said.
A worm-burner single by the next batter, Cheslor Cuthbert, had Cora hopping out of the dugout. He later pointed to location, saying his starter’s fastball was strong.
But Cashner, who walked a season-high five in his last outing, misfired one too many times.
“There’s a reason we brought him here,” Cora said. “We believe he’s a good pitcher. You see flashes of his stuff and what he can do. We trust him. I think, stuff-wise, he’s still throwing the ball well. If we have to make adjustments mechanically, we’ll take a look at it.”
The Red Sox’ defense was on, and got a lift from instant replay. In the first, Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield mashed a fastball off the Monster and appeared to scoot into second with a double, just ahead of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s throw.
But he lost his balance as Michael Chavis was applying the tag, and his foot came a hair off the bag. After a Red Sox challenge and review of 1 minute, 53 seconds, the safe call was overturned.
Second baseman Chavis got the second out of the eighth by sprinting to center and making a diving catch with a barrel-roll finish.
Offensively, however, it wasn’t there for Boston.
Christian Vazquez and Mitch Moreland had hard-hit, one-out singles in the second. After advancing to third on a fly out, Vazquez — no threat to run — was dancing halfway to home as Jakob Junis tried to escape the jam. Bradley flew to the gap, center fielder Bubba Starling and right fielder Dozier colliding as Starling caught the third out.
J.D. Martinez, returning to the lineup after a day off to rest his sore back, was oddly trying to steal when Benintendi struck out to end the first. (“That was me,” Cora said. “He was ready to run.”) Martinez walked off the field in some discomfort, reaching toward his hip/lower back. He appeared fine during his next at-bat, when he laced a wall-ball double.
In the third, Rafael Devers drilled a double down the left-field line and scored when Benintendi dropped a single into right. Benintendi advanced on Brock Holt’s single but was stranded on third.
After Martinez led off the eighth with a ground-rule double to right off reliever Richard Lovelady, Vazquez drove him in with a gap double to left-center.
Before the Sox went 1-2-3 to end the game, reliever Darwinzon Hernandez struck out the side in the ninth. Though he has walked one batter per inning, he has a 0.00 ERA with 18 strikeouts in nine frames since his call-up last month.
If only a starter was dealing like that.
“I thought I had good stuff,” Cashner said. “I made three mistakes, they hit three home runs. That’s kind of the way it goes, but this is a team we’ve got to beat. I’ve got to be better.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports