Francona was clear in his assessment of the situation. If we need somebody we'll go get them, he said, but don't expect any kind of major splash. This is a star-studded roster that only needs such players just in case.
Well, just in case has happened.
Because of an absolute collapse this month by the Red Sox rotation, the call-ups are practically the featured players on a crumbling club that has to pick up the pieces really soon.
That stomach-turning scenario reached new levels Friday night, when Scott Atchison and Felix Doubront, two of those recent additions, combined to pitch more innings than John Lackey, the latest Boston starter to give way to guys who weren't even around when this team was going well.
Some of the short starts have been injury-related. Some have been due to ineffectiveness. Lackey's was a little of both, for he had a short leash even before a line drive off the left calf ended his night after three innings (Lackey admitted he wasn't helping the cause anyway). The beleaguered right-hander, whose ERA has soared to 6.30, had already given up five runs in those three frames and looked extremely poor in doing so, falling behind hitter after hitter and even making a mental mistake in the field.
All of the outs against Lackey came on two-out rallies, which did nothing to make the outing any more of less unsightly.
"I don't think it matters. Runs are runs," Francona said. "You look up at the scoreboard, it doesn't really matter how they scored."
Lackey's last three starts have seen him go seven, five and three innings, respectively. He is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in that nosedive. His start Friday almost mirrored that descent, for what began OK quickly spiraled out of control.
"First inning was good, threw all fastballs the first inning," Lackey said. "Second inning, made one bad pitch, on the home run, and things kind of went south in that third inning. Started mixing in some other stuff … didn't work out."
The home run was a three-run blast by John Jaso in the second inning. The third inning consisted of three singles and two walks, all with two outs. Atchison, recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket earlier in the day, was getting loose less than three innings into his return to the majors.
That's about the last thing Francona wanted to see upon bringing back Atchison. But the skipper's getting used to this, for the short starts are coming at a rapid rate, creating some remarkably troubling trends.
In the last eight games, Red Sox starters have lasted 36 innings, less than five an outing. The bullpen has eaten up 32 innings in that span, with Atchison, Doubront, Michael Bowden and Kyle Weiland picking up the slack. If not for their presence, those outs are being recorded by the guys Francona really needs when the game is on the line.
Only two American League teams, Kansas City and Baltimore, average fewer innings per start than Boston. The Rays lead the AL in that category.
Weiland only threw two relief innings during this run of poor starts, and they came at the back end of Jon Lester's gem the other night in Toronto. However, he will be starting Saturday at Tampa Bay, replacing Beckett, so there's plenty on his shoulders.
On paper, that game will be a mismatch, featuring one rookie in Weiland who has an 8.10 ERA in his two career starts against another in Jeremy Hellickson who ranks fifth in the American League with a 2.90 mark.
Therein lies the greatest discrepancy between the two teams, whose gap in the AL wild card race has been shrinking at a steady pace.
Boston's last three starts have lasted five innings, five innings and three innings. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has three complete games in its last full turn through the rotation, the latest a beauty delivered by Wade Davis on Friday.
The Red Sox own a 5 1/2-game lead over the Rays in the AL wild card race, a sizable advantage with 19 games to play. But what gives Tampa Bay hope and fans in New England reason to worry is this current state of the rotations.
Simply put, the Rays aren't relying on September call-ups to clean up their mess.
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