Sports

For Red Sox, pitching has been the key

Red Sox manager John Farrell stood outside his clubhouse office after Monday’s 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in the home opener to speak to some visitors and soak up the joyous atmosphere.

The Sox are off to a 5-2 start, and much is being made of the influence Farrell has had on the team since the start of spring training and the impact made by so many new players on the roster.

But for Farrell, it’s nothing all that complicated or theoretical.

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“We’ve been getting very good pitching since the season started,” he said. “That’s what you have to point to.”

The Sox have allowed four or fewer runs in six of the seven games. Through Monday, they were third in the American League with a 2.95 earned run average and second with 10.18 strikeouts per nine innings. Opposing teams have hit .238 against the Sox with a .707 OPS.

“The pitching has been there every day,” catcher David Ross said. “One through five with the starters it has been good. It’s fun to see.”

Clay Buchholz, who beat the Orioles with seven shutout innings Monday, followed up a strong spring training by winning his first two starts. The same is true of Jon Lester. In 26 innings, the two have allowed three earned runs on 19 hits.

Ryan Dempster, who faces the Orioles and righthander Jake Arrieta on Wednesday, allowed three runs in five innings against the Yankees in his first start. He faced the Orioles last Aug. 20 while with the Rangers and allowed one run over eight innings.

The Sox will finish the series with lefthander Felix Doubront Thursday. He did not get a decision against Toronto in his first start, going five innings and allowing three runs. He struck out six without a walk.

Sox starters have a 2.45 ERA, and the success so far — albeit just for seven games — is a sharp reversal from 2012.

The Red Sox had a 4.70 ERA last season, 12th in the American League. Their starters were at 5.19, also 12th.

Lester was responsible for a large percentage of that because of an uncharacteristically poor season: 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA.

But the Sox also used Daniel Bard, Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Zach Stewart for 41 starts. They were 9-26 with a 6.62 ERA. None of the four started this season in the major leagues.

Only Bard is still in the Red Sox organization, and he was optioned to Double A Portland late last month to try to rebuild his career.

Josh Beckett was 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts before he was traded to the Dodgers in August.

In all, there were 62 starts made by pitchers no longer on the team — nearly 38 percent of the games. The Red Sox were 20-42 in those games.

The Red Sox hope that Dempster will pick up at least 30 of those starts. The righthander, who turns 36 next month, was signed to a two-year, $26.5 million deal in part because of his durability. Dempster has averaged 32 starts and just under 200 innings over the last five seasons.

John Lackey, who missed last season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, was slotted back into the rotation as the No. 5 starter. He pitched well in Toronto Saturday before straining the biceps in his right arm in the fifth inning and leaving the game.

The injury apparently is not serious, and the Sox are unsure whether Lackey will have to go on the disabled list. If he cannot make his next start, the Sox will likely go with Alfredo Aceves.

Down the line, the Sox hope to use lefthander Franklin Morales as a starter if a need arises. The 27-year-old was 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA in nine starts last season, striking out 47 over 45 innings.

Morales started the season on the disabled list and remained in Florida when the team left spring training. He pitched one inning in an extended spring training game Tuesday, retiring three of the four batters he faced and throwing 15 pitches.

Morales is expected to pitch twice more in Florida before starting a minor league rehabilitation assignment. The Sox want him to build his arm strength to enable him to work as a starter. If there is no opening in the rotation when he returns, Morales would return to the bullpen.

As their rotation settles in, the Sox also have been successful in establishing bullpen roles behind closer Joel Hanrahan.

Andrew Bailey has struck out four of the nine batters he has faced and allowed one hit. He has been the primary set-up man, with Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller working the earlier innings.

Uehara has been perfect in two innings and is riding a streak of 16 straight scoreless outings going back to last season. That is the best of his career.

Junichi Tazawa, another power arm, has so far been used in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. He is Farrell’s most versatile reliever because of his ability to overpower one batter or go multiple innings.

The Sox are not expected to sell out Wednesday’s game, ending a Fenway Park streak that started in 2003. But Bailey believes they are winning fans back to the park, led by their pitching.

“The fans demand and expect us to win,” he said. “Last year was obviously tough for everyone, the fans included, but they’re not going to turn away.

“There’s too much history here to not come to ballgames. I think this atmosphere and what you get here, not just as a team but the venue, there’s a lot to be said about that.

“But the way we’ve been throwing the ball and hitting the ball, obviously fans are happy and they’re not going to turn their backs on us.”

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