The offense carried the Red Sox in their 12-5 win over the Twins on Saturday, with Sox pitchers struggling with command and walking eight batters on the night. John Lackey will look to lead the club to a three-game sweep on Sunday afternoon, taking on left-hander Pedro Hernandez.
Lackey had an impressive start to 2013 despite suffering an injury that sidelined him for most of April. The Red Sox starter allowed six runs in his first 15 1/3 innings while striking out 16 batters. The righty’s last couple of starts haven’t gone quite as well, as he’s given up 13 runs in his last 16 1/3 innings (though only nine of those runs were earned). Lackey comes into his sixth start of the season with a 1-3 record and 4.05 ERA, receiving the loss in each of his last three outings.
It’s become evident that Lackey has had problems pitching out of the stretch this year. When there are runners on, opponents own a .372 batting average against Lackey, but they are batting only .221 when the bases are empty. That trend continued on Tuesday against the Rays. Lackey cruised through his first three innings with a small hiccup in the third, allowing a single to Jose Molina and a double to Yunel Escobar but getting out of the inning unscathed. Things fell apart in the bottom of the fourth, when Lackey gave up six hits. Five runs crossed the plate before all was said and done. It was the second start in a row in which one big inning led to four or more runs.
“We’re just going to go back to the work environment and keep on working a lot more from the stretch than the windup. He’ll be fine,” assured pitching coach Juan Nieves after Lackey’s last outing.
It’s worth mentioning that Lackey hasn’t had the best of luck in his previous few outings. A pop-up that Mike Napoli lost in the Tropicana Field ceiling (it was called a single, yet it would have been a routine play in most other circumstances) led to what would be the decisive two runs of the game on Tuesday night. A checked-swing double from Luke Scott to drive in the first two runs of the inning wasn’t hit hard at all. And back in his start against Minnesota on May 9, Lackey’s errant throw to second on a tailor-made double play ball opened the floodgates and led to four unearned runs, in a game the Sox would drop 5-3.
Hernandez has not been able to stifle the Red Sox in his two career starts against them. The left-hander gave up eight runs on 12 hits to Boston in his major league debut on July 18, 2012, his only appearance in the majors that year. His outing against the Sox during Minnesota’s visit to Fenway earlier this month didn’t go much better; he lasted only two innings, giving up six runs on seven hits, including a grand slam to Jonny Gomes in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez avoided the loss, however, since the Twins managed a total of 15 runs in the game, but the starter’s ERA inflated to 5.96 from 3.92. The 24-year-old lefty owns a 2-0 record on the season in five starts and two relief appearances.
Red Sox vs. Hernandez (LHP)
Jacoby Ellsbury (5 plate appearances): .600 BA/.600 OBP/.800 SLG, 1 double, 1 strikeout
Pedro Ciriaco (3): .333/.333/.333
Will Middlebrooks (3): .333/.333/.333
David Ortiz (2): .000/.000/.000, 1 strikeout
Dustin Pedroia (2): 1.000/1.000/1.500, 1 double
Shane Victorino (2): 1.000/1.000/2.500, 1 home run, 1 RBI
Stephen Drew (1): 1.000/1.000/1.000, 1 RBI
Jonny Gomes (1): 1.000/1.000/4.000, 1 home run, 4 RBI
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1): 1.000/1.000/2.000, 1 double
Mike Napoli has faced Hernandez once and walked. Mike Carp, Ryan Lavarnway and Daniel Nava have not faced Hernandez.
Twins vs. Lackey (RHP)
Justin Morneau (38): .257/.316/.371, 1 home run, 1 double, 5 RBI, 3 walks, 10 strikeouts
Joe Mauer (28): .407/.429/.630, 2 home runs, 4 RBI, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
Josh Willingham (6): .000/.000/.000, 2 strikeouts
Jamey Carroll (4): .000/.000/.000, 1 strikeout
Brian Dozier (4): .000/.000/.000, 2 strikeouts
Oswaldo Arcia (3): .667/.667/2.333, 1 home run, 1 triple, 2 RBI
Ryan Doumit (3): .000/.000/.000, 1 RBI
Pedro Florimon (3): .333/.333/.333, 1 strikeout
Aaron Hicks (3): .333/.333/.667, 1 double, 1 RBI
Trevor Plouffe (2): .000/.000/.000
Eduardo Escobar, Chris Parmalee, and Wilkin Ramirez have not faced Lackey.