Mike Napoli said it best following Wednesday’s game: The Boston Red Sox are playing better baseball.
The Red Sox wrapped up an eight-game, three-city road trip with a 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Boston won five games on the excursion, marking the club’s first winning road trip of more than three games this season.
The Red Sox return to Fenway Park on Thursday to start an 11-game homestand. Boston remains out of contention in the American League East, but it’s encouraging to see the team trending in the right direction while entering the stretch run.
Let’s assess Wednesday’s victory in Cincy.
— Anthony Ranaudo was so-so in his second major league start, though the 24-year-old earned the win. He allowed four runs on eight hits over six innings while improving his big league record to 2-0.
The Reds hit some balls hard, particularly in the fourth inning, when Skip Schumaker and pitcher Mike Leake went deep to temporarily give Cincinnati a 3-2 lead. The right-hander only issued one walk, though, which marked a step in the right direction following a debut Aug. 1 in which he issued four free passes.
“Ranaudo gave us, I thought, six solid innings,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s a fly ball pitcher (and) on a day game in this ballpark, it can be a little risky at times. You see the two home runs that were allowed. But he didn’t issue base on balls his second time around here (with Boston), where that came back to haunt him (the first time).”
Ranaudo threw 61 of his 91 pitches for strikes.
— Yoenis Cespedes, who tied the game 3-3 in the fifth inning with an RBI single, left the game in the seventh inning with a right hand contusion.
It appears the Red Sox dodged a bullet. The injury, which Cespedes apparently suffered during his final at-bat, doesn’t appear to be serious. Farrell said the outfielder wanted to stay in the game, but the Red Sox decided to remove him for precautionary reasons.
— Mike Napoli drilled a two-run homer in the fifth inning to give Boston a 5-3 lead. That ultimately was the difference.
— Jackie Bradley Jr. snapped a 0-for-35 skid with a second-inning single. He finished the game 1-for-3.
— Catcher Dan Butler, making his second major league start, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
— Burke Badenhop, Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica combined for three scoreless innings of relief.
— Mujica recorded his third save of the season. He pitched in place of closer Koji Uehara, who was unavailable after pitching in Boston’s previous four games.
Mujica allowed two baserunners in the ninth inning before closing the door. It wasn’t pretty, but the right-hander has pitched better of late.
Mujica hasn’t allowed a run over his last nine appearances, a span of 7 2/3 innings. He owns a 1.96 ERA (five earned runs in 23 innings) over his last 24 appearances.
It once was reasonable to wonder whether Mujica, who allowed 10 earned runs over his first 10 appearances with the Red Sox, would last the entire season in Boston. As he continues to salvage his mostly disappointing 2014, it now looks like he’ll be part of Boston’s bullpen mix in 2015.