Boston’s pitchers proved to be the much stingier bunch with runners on, though, and it was ultimately the difference in the contest. The Twins left 14 men on base and were just 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
That can obviously be looked at in one of two ways if you’re the Red Sox. The Sox could be concerned that they put themselves in those situations, or they could look back and view the experience as a positive one given their ability to work around the struggles in order to preserve a win. Considering it’s still spring training, the latter outlook seems like the more appropriate path, especially since those thrust into the fire hadn’t felt too much heat early on this spring.
Ryan Dempster entered Thursday’s start — his fourth of the spring — on the heels of three straight impressive performances. The right-hander was nearly perfect in his first two, and although he endured some brief struggles in his third outing, the veteran still managed to come away from that game with a rather respectable stat line.
Dempster pitched four innings on Thursday, allowing one earned run on three hits while walking two and striking out three. The only run he allowed was actually the result of an opposite-field blast off the bat of Chris Parmelee, as he managed to work around his other miscues and sidestep any additional damage.
The Twins threatened against Dempster in the second inning. After Justin Morneau led off the inning with a groundout, Dempster walked Parmelee and then gave up a double to Joe Benson, setting up runners at second and third with one out. It was a perfect opportunity for the Twins to respond to the Red Sox’ big top half of the inning, which saw Boston put up four runs, but instead Dempster buckled down. The right-hander struck out both Oswaldo Arcia and Eric Fryer swinging to escape the inning unscathed and with a five-run lead still intact.
Obviously, Dempster and every other pitcher on planet Earth would prefer a series of clean innings, but there’s something to be gained from working out of jams during spring training. Each pitcher is inevitably going to find himself in an unpleasant situation at some point during the regular season, so the situational practice during the spring certainly can’t hurt, even if it isn’t what the pitcher sets out to accomplish on a given afternoon.
“When you go away from the season and the season ends, you lose sight of those situations a little bit, so when you get back into ’em, it kind of gives you an understanding of trying to manage an inning and how to maybe get a strikeout when you can,” Dempster told reporters after his start. “Those kinds of situations are fun, because you’re going to get lots of those during the year. You just have to go out there and make your pitches.”
Dempster wasn’t the only pitcher to escape trouble on Thursday. Koji Uehara and Daniel Bard each found himself in a predicament but — like Dempster — was able to push through in order to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard.
Uehara was the first pitcher to replace Dempster. He came on in the fifth inning, and he was greeted by trouble. The Twins loaded the bases via a single and two walks, marking the first three baserunners Uehara has allowed all spring. When push came to shove, though, the typically reliable reliever got the always dangerous Morneau to pop out to end the threat.
It was Bard’s turn in the sixth inning. The hard-throwing righty walked Parmelee and gave up a single to Benson to lead off the inning, before ultimately bearing down to get Arcia, Fryer and Pedro Florimon in order. Until that point, Bard had allowed just two hits in four scoreless innings this spring, so to see him escape trouble was a welcomed sign, especially given his track record of sometimes imploding when the pressure level elevates.
“I think it forces you to bear down a little bit, which is probably a little more like what you’re going to see during the season,” Bard told reporters in Fort Myers after his outing. “Whether you create the jam or somebody else does, that’s just how it goes. I think it’s great to get some of those.”
You can bet during the regular season, Dempster, Uehara, Bard and the rest of the Boston pitching staff will seek to eliminate jams all together. That’s an unrealistic expectation, though, so it’s encouraging to see what they were able to do when faced with adversity on Thursday.