The Red Sox fell to the Phillies 4-1 on Monday. As with all spring training games, however, the score itself was less important than what went into getting there. And for the Red Sox, it was all about another tiring starting pitcher struggling to get through a fifth or sixth inning.
It's not unusual, of course, that a starter will take a while to get stretched out much like any reliever might upon joining the rotation. They have spent the last five-or-so months, after all, specifically not throwing 100 pitches in a single day. It can take a while to get back up to that.
Still, for the Red Sox, it seems to be taking just a bit longer than for everyone else. Since Josh Beckett fell apart against the Pirates in the fifth inning on March 13, the Red Sox have in five games had their starters falter in the fourth, fifth, or sixth innings after, typically, a very strong start. It happened to Clay Buchholz against Detroit, Matsuzaka against St. Louis, Lester against the Braves, Beckett against the Pirates (for a second time), and Lester again against the Phillies.
Many of these bumps can be partially explained away by errors and a little bad luck, but still, it's becoming a very real trend to see the Boston starters go from dominant to rather less so come the middle innings.
The question is whether or not this is something worth worrying about. And the answer is a solid "maybe". Obviously if this is a issue of conditioning, then something has to be done, but looking at the Sox' pitchers, many of them look to be in as good shape as they ever have been with the Red Sox.
So what is the cause? My guess is that the answer the Sox' new pitching coach. After the busy offseason the team had, it's easy to forget that the Sox lost John Farrell to the Blue Jays, making them bring in Oakland's Curt Young. And looking at Oakland around this time last spring, sure enough, the Athletics' pitchers weren't having the best of times then, either. Scientifically conclusive this is not, but it seems a plausible answer.
So if he is the reason behind these issues, does that mean that Curt Young is a bad pitching coach? Only if you really value your spring training wins. It seems likely that Young just brings his pitchers along a bit more slowly to start the year than John Farrell did. And while that may leave a little less room for error, if Young leaves the rotation well-rested and with five pitchers capable of going deep into games come April 1, then he will have done his job.
As for the game itself, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Matt Albers: Has Albers secured a spot in the bullpen? His three strikeouts in 1.2 innings leaves him with eleven K's to zero walks, which looks very good even when not paired with a 1.80 ERA.
Jed Lowrie/Mike Cameron: A hit, a walk, and for Jed Lowrie, a double. Given two at bats a piece, there's not much to complain about
Jon Lester: He was strong to start, but then the fatigue issues set in. Combined with his own wide throw to second, that makes for one bad inning.
Jonathan Papelbon: Perhaps it's the lack of the energy found in a ninth inning major league save, but Paps just hasn't been the same this spring. Or maybe he has, and that's the problem. The most recent offense--a 1.1 inning performance with a hit and two walks--doesn't seem so bad until you learn it was against A-ball competition.