December 3, 2022

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Sox hope J.D.'s slam spurs reset heading home

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BALTIMORE — J.D. Martinez provided a glimmer of hope with a ninth-inning grand slam, but the Red Sox fell to the Orioles, 9-5, in Sunday’s rain-delayed finale to drop the three-game series at Camden Yards.

Boston left 25 men on base in the series and managed only nine total runs.

“Maybe the [bats] need CPR, like [Shohei] Ohtani,” said catcher Christian Vázquez, who doubled in the second but failed to score on a Jaylin Davis single. “We need to figure it out quick. We have a great team, and everybody knows the Red Sox are dangerous when they get hot.”

The offense had their early chances against Orioles starter Jordan Lyles, but it stranded seven men in the game’s first three innings.

“That’s been the story of the offense,” said manager Alex Cora. “Even when we are ahead in the count or we have men in scoring position and the at-bats are in our favor, we are chasing pitches. So, we got to get better at that.”

Here are three key takeaways as the Red Sox return home for a six-game homestand:

Martinez’s return is big for the offense
J.D. Martinez (adductor strain) started his first game since Wednesday and made an immediate impact. He singled in each of his first two at-bats and then blasted a line-drive grand slam in the ninth inning over the right-center-field fence.

“It’s always good to have the big guy there,” said Cora prior to the game. “He was swinging the bat well. One thing for sure, he’s not going to be the guy that’s going to feel the pressure, ‘Aw, I got to hit.’ That’s what he does. He’s not going to go, ‘Oh, I got to carry the team.’ He’s going to put quality at-bats [together]. Get some pitches to hit and put some good swings on it and help us.”

Martinez helped his teammates when he was on the bench and is the closest the club has to a player-coach. All week, he begged the trainers to find a way to get him back on the field.

“I tell them every day, ‘You got to figure out a way to get me out there,’” Martinez said. “And keep me out there. Just sucks because you try to come back, felt good in Toronto. And then boom, right away. Against Toronto at home, same thing. It sucks seeing the guys struggle and me not being able to help them. I’m trying everything I can off [the field]. Trying to tell them what I see from a swing standpoint. It all comes down to execution.”

Execution is where Martinez thinks Boston can do better.

“I don’t think we are executing our game plans,” he said after a 2-1 loss in 10 innings on Saturday. “I think we are going up there, we are talking about them, but we are not executing them. I think it comes from the pressure. It’s kind of like, ‘I got to do something, I got to get a hit. I’m 0-for-2, 0-for-3.’ It’s added pressure and it just kind of snowballs.”

Martinez’s grand slam hopefully can open the door to more power. The Red Sox have only four homers in their last 15 games.

“It seems like the at-bats got better at the end,” Cora said. “We swung at strikes, we put good swings. If we are going to take a positive out of today is the at-bats towards the end of the game.”

What’s happening with Pivetta?
The second time through the lineup, the Orioles got to Boston starter Nick Pivetta.

Baltimore recorded three consecutive hits to begin the fifth, culminating with Tyler Nevin’s first hit of the season, a two-run single to put Baltimore ahead. After a strikeout of Anthony Bemboom, Pivetta (0-4) gave up another hit to Jorge Mateo. Pivetta’s day was done.

“Just came down to three hits,” Pivetta said. “Single, single, double. That’s pretty much how it goes. I wasn’t able to make those pitches late. It’s unfortunate, but [I] just got to keep going through it.”

It was the fourth consecutive start the right-hander was unable to complete five innings. He bounced the baseball on the rubber of the mound in frustration as Cora came out to get him. But Pivetta said he did feel good: “I think the biggest factor was I didn’t have any walks today, which was really important. I was in the strike zone a lot of the time. I was competing, competing with my pitches and things just didn’t go my way today.”

Dalbec gets a break
First baseman Bobby Dalbec has struggled the first month of the season, and he has not been alone. Dalbec is hitless in his last 13 at-bats and batting .147 in 20 games. A day off Sunday and a scheduled off-day Monday will give him some time to refresh and recalibrate.

“He is a good hitter,” said Cora. “Mentally it is a grind. But you have the support of a lot people here. We got three hitting guys, we got Rey [Fuentes, coordinator, mental skills program] around and you got your teammates. For how bad he looks, you got to keep everything in perspective.”

Cora received advice on how to help the club’s funk at the plate. His good friend Carlos Delgado, a three-time Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star, texted him with an idea.

“When we go through stuff like this, I like talking to him because he has a different perspective,” Cora said. “This guy hit [473] home runs. but the mental side of it made him great. Carlos said it perfectly, ‘Don’t be in that rush to make an out. What’s the point? If you get your pitch, great. But if you don’t, just take it. Get the at-bat going and then see what happens 3-1, 3-2, 2-0.’ We haven’t been able to do that.

“We need [Dalbec] to breathe a little bit, relax, and understand that [he has] the hitting tool. He can hit. He knows that too and we are just trying to help him out.”

It’s advice most of the lineup should heed as the Red Sox return to Fenway Park for a six-game homestand.

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