One of the things that, at least in my view, has become pretty clear early on is that the bullpen is still a big question mark, and Alex Cora is managing like it. He’s leaving in pitchers a bit longer than you’d expect early in the year after a shortened spring, and it’s leading to damage. But with that being said, it’s not the big issue for the Red Sox through two games, and especially on Saturday. Instead, that’s the offense. Boston’s lineup will certainly put up runs this season, so don’t construe this as a matter of long-term concern, but they’ve struggled this season, and particularly with runners on base. They had a chance to really put a hurting on Luis Severino early, but instead managed for just a two-run homer. It turned out that was all they’d get in the game, and eventually would go down 4-2 for a second straight loss to start out 2022.
More robust game notes below.
Saturday’s game between the Red Sox and Yankees featured important wildcards on the mound for both sides, with Nick Pivetta taking on Luis Severino. On the Red Sox side of things, they desperately need someone to step up behind Nathan Eovaldi, and doubly so after the injury to Chris Sale. Pivetta is the nominal number two, and he wants to live up to that billing.
For the first few innings of this game, he showed a lot of good, though it came alongside the same hard contact that has regularly plagued him in his career. Still, despite the hard contact — he allowed four batted balls of at least 99 mph in the first three innings, including two over 113 — he was able to get through those first three innings unscathed. Some of that was thanks to help from his defense, most notably when Jackie Bradley Jr. made his impact felt in the field for the first time in 2022 by throwing out Joey Gallo unwisely trying to stretch a wall-ball single in right to a double. Throw in a couple of strikeouts, and Pivetta only faced nine batters through three.
Over on the other side, Severino, who has thrown just 18 innings since the start of 2019, came out firing with his fastball sitting in the high 90s in a 1-2-3 first that included a pair of strikeouts. But then he was let down by his defense to start the second when Isiah Kiner-Falefa couldn’t haul in a grounder from J.D. Martinez while ranging up the middle to his left. It was called a single, but it sure looked like an error to me. Whatever the call, though, it didn’t matter. Alex Verdugo came up next and continued what has been a good start to his season, this time getting a fastball down in the zone over the middle of the plate. He got all of it, sending a no-doubt homer to right field and putting the Red Sox up 2-0 in the second.
But then we saw a continuation of a troubling trend that was set on Friday with the lineup struggling to get the final hit needed to finish off a rally. Immediately after the homer, Trevor Story got his first hit in a Red Sox uniform when Gallo came up short on an attempt at a diving catch, putting Story on second with a double, still with nobody out. Three straight groundouts ensured he would not come home. In the third, Rafael Devers ripped a one-out double, but was left standing on second when Severino came back with two straight strikeouts. And then again in the fourth, they started with a single from Verdugo and a Story walk, but the bottom trio of Bobby Dalbec, Bradley, and Christian Vázquez (who did work a great 12-pitch at bat earlier in the game) went down in order to again leave the runners stranded.
And as a result of that poor performance with men on base, it was still a 2-0 game heading into the fourth, when Pivetta seemingly hit a wall. Josh Donaldson led off the game with a rocket of a single into left field, and then it looked like Aaron Judge hit a shot out to center to tie the game. Instead, it came up just short and Enrique Hernández was able to make a leaping grab at the wall for the first out. That high only lasted a second, though, as Anthony Rizzo immediately came up next and hit his second homer in as many games, this one actually tying the game up at two. Pivetta was helped out by a great defensive play from Devers for the second out before issuing back-to-back walks. Fortunately, Gleyber Torres helped him out by swinging at a first-pitch breaking ball and popping it up to end the inning and prevent any more runs from being scored.
To his credit, Pivetta did come back out for the fifth and got through a perfect inning, but Alex Cora kept pushing him into the sixth, likely out of a lack of trust for the bullpen more than anything else, and eventually it bit him. After a leadoff walk to Judge, Pivetta induced a pop out from Rizzo, but then he had to face Giancarlo Stanton. Nobody in baseball hits the ball harder than him, and he got a slider down and in (which was supposed to be off the outside corner) that he demolished 112 mph off the bat, and 412 feet in distance for a two-run homer, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead. Pivetta would get one more out before Austin Davis came on and recorded the final out to keep the deficit at two.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense totally hit a wall in this game, much like they did on Friday. They managed just a two-out walk in each of the fifth and sixth innings before going down in order in the seventh. After a perfect bottom half of the seventh from Hirokazu Sawamura, the Red Sox bats would again manage just a two-out walk in a scoreless eighth.
Phillips Valdez would give Boston a second straight perfect inning, giving the offense one last chance with the bottom third of the order due up to face Aroldis Chapman. Dalbec led off with a strikeout, but then Christian Arroyo came up to pinch hit and caught a break, hitting a grounder to shortstop but getting over to second base on a throwing error. Unfortunately, continuing the theme of the day, he’d be left standing in scoring position, and this time it ended the game with a 4-2 Yankees win.
The Red Sox will now look to avoid a second straight season starting with a sweep in the series finale on Sunday. Boston will have Tanner Houck on the mound to take on New York’s Jordan Montgomery, with first pitch set for 7:07 PM ET.