July 6, 2022

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After lukewarm April, Sox eager to turn page

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BALTIMORE – Saturday night’s frustrating one-run loss was a microcosm of a stumbling opening month for the Red Sox. All manager Alex Cora wants to do now is turn the page.

The Orioles endured seven shutdown frames from Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi at Camden Yards, eked out a run to tie the game in the eighth and won it in the 10th, 2-1, on a throwing error by reliever Hirokazu Sawamura that scored pinch-runner Jorge Mateo.

Boston finished April 9-13, wasting another impressive seven-inning effort from Eovaldi, its No. 1 starter, and now needs to figure out what’s going on with the club’s cold bats as a new month arrives. 

That lack of run support and sustained rallies has put a damper on Boston’s recent solid starting pitching. In the past 15 games, the starters have posted a 2.32 ERA over 73 2/3 innings, a marked improvement from the beginning of the season, when they allowed a 6.07 ERA during the first seven games.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to swing the bats,” Cora said. “We had a horrible month in April. We didn’t do our job. We can talk about ‘it’s early’ and all that stuff, but we’ve got to put [together] better at-bats. That’s the bottom line.”

One thing that would really help is to get J.D. Martinez back in the starting lineup. The Red Sox slugger was scratched again Saturday with an adductor strain. He hopes to return for Sunday’s series finale. The club’s resident hitting guru spoke postgame about what he thinks is troubling the offense.

“I think the shortened spring has something to do with it,” Martinez said. “I don’t think a lot of guys got to tweak [their swings]. During Spring Training, you always see guys tweaking. I feel like you want to struggle in spring because that’s when you get to try out everything and kind of see if it works. If … [you] kind of rush through it, come season, pressure’s on and now it’s game time and it’s time to go. Guys are trying to see what’s going to work now, and it’s tough.”

Eovaldi overwhelmed the Orioles, continuing a recent trend for Red Sox starters. In back-to-back starts, he has allowed two total earned runs over 14 innings. But the offense just could not get enough sustained rallies going to score more than once.

“It’s a little surprising, but it’s not like we are going down looking up there,” Eovaldi said. “I feel like they are having good at-bats, they are hitting the ball hard, it’s just going right to guys. I know it’s a grind right now. I feel like we are putting a lot more pressure on ourselves than we need to. I feel like we are throwing the ball really well as a team. It’s just a matter of time before those hits start dropping in.”

Averaging 96-98 mph with his four-seam fastball, Eovaldi mixed in his splitter, slider and curveball to keep Baltimore off the board for seven frames. But the offense has produced two or fewer runs in five of its past eight games. That has affected the bottom line. Boston has now lost eight of its past 11 games and boasts an unenviable MLB-leading six one-run losses.

Eovaldi struck out the side in the first inning. The Orioles’ only baserunner in the first five frames reached courtesy of a throwing error by Xander Bogaerts in the second. Eovaldi struck out a season-high eight and walked none.

“I felt really good out there,” Eovaldi said. “I had a real good feel for the splitter, and then just really commanding the ball all over the zone. I had a real good feel for the slider early on. Toward the end of the game, I left the one [pitch] over to [Ryan] Mountcastle and to [Austin] Hays, and they just spun up there in the middle, but I was able to go out there and have a shutdown inning in the seventh, and that was a big one for me.”

After Eovaldi exited, Anthony Santander’s RBI single off Matt Barnes tied the game in the eighth.

Trevor Story’s ground-rule double on the game’s first pitch set the stage for a Bogaerts RBI single that scored Boston’s only run. The Red Sox had seven hits on the night, but Story’s double was the lone extra-base hit, and the offense left 10 men on base.

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