The Red Sox still haven’t been swept this year, so that’s a neat thing. It’s about the only positive we can take from this road trip that is now in the past, but it also involved a win on Sunday and a happy flight home. This one was all about pitching, and particularly pitching from guys were don’t really think of when we picture dominant performances. Hector Velázquez got the start, and while he wasn’t stretched out enough to go deep into the game he was great for three innings of work. After him, Brandon Workman, Marcus Walden, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier did the damn thing out of the bullpen. On the other side, the offense was frustrated for most of the day, but Mitch Moreland hit a solo home run and it was all the team would need. More of this, please.
It’s tough to know where to start with this game, and not because there was so much to choose from. In fact, it was the opposite as this game was dominated for the first two-thirds of the game by quick at bats and good pitching. The matchup between Hector Velázquez and Merrill Kelly didn’t exactly have the obvious makings of a pitcher’s duel, but those who tuned in to Sunday’s action in the desert got exactly that.
I suppose we can start with Velázquez, who wasn’t able to make it deep into this game, though not because of his performance. The righty, who is making this start in place of the injured Brian Johnson, wasn’t quite stretched out and only made it through three innings. While he was on the mound, though, he was the most effective starting pitcher the Red Sox have seen in 2019. The bar was quite low, of course, but while he was out there Velázquez was impressive. As always, his stuff wasn’t quite overpowering but the righty was locating all of his offerings and flashing just enough stuff to get away with a mistake here and there.
The results were, well, they were good. He made it through the first two innings in order with no fight whatsoever. Any chance at a perfect game was eliminated by a one-out single from J.R. Murphy in the third, but Velázquez did retire the next two to get through his three innings of work without allowing a run. That was the first time any Red Sox pitcher has tossed three scoreless innings in 2019.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get any offense whatsoever. There’s not exactly a book out on Kelly, who was pitching in the KBO last year and never made it to the majors in his last stint in affiliated ball. The righty, like Velázquez, doesn’t have overpowering stuff but he sure appeared to be difficult to square up. That the Red Sox offense is in the midst of a skid along with their pitching staff certainly didn’t help much either. As a result, just like the Diamondbacks the Red Sox went down in order in each of the first two innings. They saw only 18 pitches over those two frames.
In the third, Boston had the first real chance from either side. There was some hope here, too, as this had been around the area of the game where they’d have their token solid inning in which they’d take a lead while still leaving a little on the table. Not this time. Jackie Bradey Jr. started things off with a bloop single that just found grass between three fielders, and after Velázquez failed to move him over with a bunt Andrew Benintendi got him to third with a base hit. With runners on the corners, Xander Bogaerts had a chance in a big spot but instead he hit a weak pop up out to shallow right field and the Red Sox were left scoreless.
After that, it was back to the grind for Boston’s hitters. They’d go down in order in each of the next three innings following that scoring chance.
So, with the offense scuffling badly and Velázquez only being able to go three innings, it was going to be up to the Red Sox bullpen to make sure this was a winnable game. They’ve been very good as a unit this year, but if we’re being honest they haven’t had a ton of high-pressure situations. Brandon Workman, arguably the most impressive reliever to this point, had the fourth inning and once again he looked great. The righty tossed an easy 1-2-3 inning including a strikeout to finish things off. After Workman was Marcus Walden, who made it through two scoreless innings in which he allowed a double in his first frame and a walk in his second, but no runs between them. He did get into some trouble in his first inning when a runner got to third with less than two outs, but Xander Bogaerts got a big out at the plate to keep Arizona off the board.
Finally the seventh inning rolled around and the Red Sox offense got on the board. The pitching had done its job to an extent not seen yet in 2019, and now they were pitching with a lead. It just took one swing of the bat as Mitch Moreland got a bit of a flat cutter down in the zone for the first pitch of the inning and he wasted no time. The first baseman jumped on it and sent it just over a leaping Adam Jones’ glove in right field for a solo homer. Just like that, it was 1-0 Red Sox.
Now with the lead, Alex Cora went to Matt Barnes for the bottom half of the seventh with some tough righties coming up. He would get a 1-2-3 inning that included a nine-pitch battle with Christian Walker than ended with a big strikeout. He’d come back out for the bottom of the eighth as well, and once again he was perfect. He’s good, folks.
The Red Sox came back out in the ninth looking to add some insurance to their lead, and they had a real chance at it. Benintendi led off with a single, then with two outs J.D. Martinez was put on with an intentional walk and Rafael Devers drew a traditional walk to load the bases. For some reason, Blake Swihart hit for himself with Mookie Betts wasting away on the bench, and he’d strike out swinging to end the chance.
So, it was up to Ryan Brasier in the ninth — with Betts now coming in to play right field! — to protect a 1-0 lead. He got a couple of outs back-to-back to start the inning, but then trouble appeared when David Peralta ripped a double into left-center field. That brought Jones up in a huge spot, but Brasier needed just one pitch to retire him and finish off the Red Sox victory.
After this brutal eleven games in eleven days stretch, the Red Sox finally head back out east and get a day off on Monday, their first of two over a three-day span. In between they’ll be playing their home opener on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Chris Sale takes the mound for Boston taking on Matt Shoemaker. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 PM ET.