Ryan Dempster became the Dempster of April again Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Dempster was opposite a rejuvenated Cliff Lee who appears to have completely put last year’s disappointing campaign behind him.
Dempster was very solid after three straight subpar performances, allowing just two runs in a seven-inning start for the first time since April 15 and giving Boston every chance to sweep their brief two-game series with Philadelphia. The way the Red Sox offense has been clicking of late, that should have been enough.
But even the league’s second-best run-scoring team had no answer for the Phillies starter, who allowed Jacoby Ellsbury to score on a Dustin Pedroia single in the first then went on to retire 23 of his final 25 batters without ever finding himself in a three-ball count. With this most recent eight-inning outing, Lee has now allowed just three runs over 31 innings in his last four starts after suffering through a month-long rough patch of his own earlier in the season.
“I felt better, threw the ball a little better today,” Dempster said. “I just got out-pitched by the other guy. Cliff Lee is tough. When you’re going to go out there and match up against him, you can’t make many mistakes. We had a couple tonight, and they cost us a couple of runs, and he did a good job of pitching against us.”
A primary issue for Dempster throughout his brief tenure in Boston has been his inability to get quick, early outs, resulting in crushingly high pitch counts that prevent him from going deep into ballgames. Entering Tuesday night, Dempster had thrown 100 or more pitches in eight of his 10 starts — not uncommon for a starting pitcher — but had yet to pitch past the seventh inning. Though he did appear to tire late against the Phillies, he was much more effective with keeping his pitches down in the strike zone early on. This kept his pitch count from becoming overwhelming and resulted in him facing four or fewer batters in each of his first five innings.
“[Tuesday night] was kind of a classic pitchers’ duel,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I thought Ryan Dempster was much-improved over the previous three starts, much like we saw prior to that three-start stretch where he was down in the strike zone, he had good secondary stuff. We ran into a very good pitcher tonight.
“[It was] a well-pitched game all around. We just came up on the short end of it.”
Dempster, especially at this point in his career, is not going to be Cliff Lee, and Farrell & Co. certainly do not expect him to be. But if he can give the Red Sox what he was on Tuesday — a solid third starter who allows two to three runs per game and doesn’t make the bullpen work overtime — he will find himself with a “W” next to his name more times than not.
“It was very encouraging to see,” Farrell said. “Despite the outcome here tonight, his seven solid innings of work were needed, and it was good to see him do that tonight.”