SAN DIEGO — It does not take much in the way of enlightened analysis to determine why the Red Sox were 3-1 losers against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
The first four hitters in the lineup — Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez — were 1 for 14 and got the ball out of the infield four times.
Outside of a home run by Martinez in the fourth inning, the Red Sox managed only three singles.
“We didn’t do much offensively today. We didn’t get too much pressure on them and that was the game,” manager Alex Cora said.
It was a day the Red Sox could have used a little help from their complementary players to steal a win and sweep the series. With both Oakland and Tampa Bay losing, the Sox could have gained a game in the wild card race and been five games out with 30 to play.
That made it all the more curious that Chris Owings started at second base and played the whole game, going 0 for 2 with a walk.
Owings is 1 for 15 with nine strikeouts since the Red Sox called him up on Aug. 11. Counting his time with Kansas City this season, Owings is hitting .127 with a .405 OPS. He has struck out 64 times in 150 at-bats.
Ostensibly, the righthanded hitter was added to the roster to give the Sox a boost against lefthanded pitchers and that explains why he started against San Diego’s Joey Lucchesi, a lefty with a funky delivery.
But Owings is 6 of 53 (.113) against lefties this season with 31 strikeouts.
And Lucchesi’s splits didn’t suggest the Sox were gaining any platoon advantage. Lefthanded hitters had a .676 OPS against him, righthanders a .677 OPS.
“It’s a tough lefty and that’s what he’s here for,” Cora said before the game when explaining why Owings was in the lineup. “He hasn’t hit lefties throughout the season but we’ve got to use everybody to make this happen.
“He’s been working hard at it. I don’t put guys in the lineup hoping that they produce. I expect them to produce. It’s a guy, he has a role on the team and today he’s playing.”
Owings, a former first-round draft pick, started the season with the Royals and was released in June. The Sox picked him up two weeks later and assigned him to Triple A Pawtucket.
Owings put up a .980 OPS in 44 games and earned his promotion. But his struggles at the major league level have continued.
Seventeen plate appearances are not enough to judge a player. But Owings has been overmatched by major league pitching since the start of the 2018 season. It’s why both Arizona and Kansas City let him go.
Smart teams work the margins for talent and it was a no-risk move for the Red Sox to give Owings a shot. But either Marco Hernandez or Brock Holt seemed like much better options on Sunday.
Owings was allowed to hit in the seventh inning against righthanded reliever Luis Perdomo and grounded to shortstop. With Andrew Benintendi unavailable because of a muscle strain on his left side, Cora had a short bench and didn’t want to use a pinch hitter there.
Holt pinch hit in the eighth inning and singled. Mitch Moreland was held back for a pinch-hitting situation later on in the eighth inning that never materialized.
“We had nothing,” Cora said. “If we use Mitch in that spot, we wouldn’t have been able to hit for [Sam] Travis against a righty in the eighth inning.
“It’s the nature of 162 [games]. We did our best today.”
On the pitching side, Brian Johnson allowed three runs in the first inning and that stood up for the Padres. The lefthander is 1-3 with a 6.83 earned run average.
In five starts this month, Johnson has allowed nine runs in the first inning on six extra-base hits.
“Maybe you have to change things up for me. Fix the game plan,” Johnson said. “It seems to be working in the second and the third inning. So maybe it’s the game plan.”
Johnson and Hector Velazquez, so effective as spot starters last season, have a 6.00 ERA in 15 starts this season and averaged only two innings in those games.
The Sox need a starter for Saturday’s game against the Angels in Anaheim. It’s easy to say it shouldn’t be Johnson, but bringing Velazquez, Mike Shawaryn or Ryan Weber back from Triple A may not be much of an upgrade. Starter depth has been an issue all season.
Ultimately, Owings and Johnson aren’t responsible for the mess the Red Sox are in or why they lost on Sunday. But on a day the Sox missed a chance to add a bit of fuel to their fading hopes, that they were in the game mattered.