A certain leap of faith is required to send a sinkerball pitcher like Aaron Cook to the mound.
There will be days when his pitch is wondrous, producing fast-paced games and frustrated opponents.
But, almost inevitably, there is a price to pay.
Because Cook so rarely strikes anybody out, his pitches are put in play time after time. Balls off the bat can, and do, land almost anywhere and the game can get out of hand quickly.
For Cook, the trend has shifted the wrong way. He couldn’t get out of the fifth inning on Wednesday night at Fenway Park as the Detroit Tigers beat the Red Sox, 7-5.
Cook was 2-1 with a 1.67 earned run average in his first four starts after coming off the disabled list on June 24. He was, for a time, the best pitcher in the rotation.
Cook is 0-3 in his three starts since, allowing 15 earned runs on 20 hits, six of them home runs, over 15 innings. Those games came against the Blue Jays and Yankees before the Tigers roughed him up on Wednesday.
Cook allowed six runs on nine hits. Five of the runs came in the fifth inning as a close game got away from the Sox and snapped their four-game win streak.
Six of the nine hits came on two-strike pitches. Cook didn’t have a strikeout in the game and has only four over 44⅔ innings.
“We all wish he had a pitch that, with two strikes, it would be a swing-and-miss pitch,’’ Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. “That’s what you live with. A contact pitcher, he works quick and doesn’t walk people. But at times those ground balls find holes.’’
Cook didn’t allow a run over the first three innings, holding the Tigers to two singles. With two outs and the bases empty in the fourth inning, Prince Fielder doubled off the wall in left.
A single by Brennan Boesch gave the Tigers their first run. Then the hits came in bunches in the fifth inning.
Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta started the inning with singles. They moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Ramon Santiago.
Austin Jackson’s RBI single to left gave Detroit a 2-1 lead. Peralta scored when Quintin Berry grounded to second. Dustin Pedroia looked at the plate, realized he had no play and threw to first.
Cook tried a 2-and-2 curveball to Miguel Cabrera that stayed up in the strike zone. Cabrera clobbered it over everything in left field, across Lansdowne Street and onto the roof of the parking garage. It was only a few feet away from the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia explained that the idea was to get Cabrera to chase a pitch in the dirt. But the ball spun up.
“He thought he could bounce a curveball and he didn’t bounce it. The big boy deposited it,’’ Valentine said. “Looking for that ground ball at someone. It didn’t happen that inning.’’
Fielder was next and he homered to straightaway center. Valentine finally came and got Cook then.
Cook has allowed two home runs in each of his last three starts. They’ve accounted for 10 runs.
“I can live with the ground balls getting through and scoring runs here and there,’’ Cook said. “But when I’m making bad pitches to the best hitters in the game and just leaving them up, they did exactly what they were supposed to do with those pitches.
“Guys are definitely looking down in the zone on me and they’re trying to square it up. Anything that comes up and they square it up, it’s just a hard fly ball and those hitters, they’re hitting them out of the park right now.’’
If Cook were to stay in the rotation, he would face the Texas Rangers at Fenway on Monday. But with Josh Beckett questionable for his next start because of back spasms, the Red Sox may not have the flexibility to replace Cook.
Cook made a case to keep his job.
“I know what happened and why it happened. I still feel strong; I still feel healthy. It’s just a matter of, in those certain situations, not making those bad pitches and just bearing down,’’ he said. “I feel like I’ve only been making three or four bad pitches a game but they’re resulting in four or five runs.’’
Down, 6-1, after Cook left the game, the Red Sox offense came alive in the sixth inning against Rick Porcello (8-6).
Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, and Cody Ross had singles to load the bases. Saltalamacchia, who has struggled with runners in scoring position in recent weeks, grounded into a double play as Pedroia scored.
Will Middlebrooks extended his hit streak to nine games with an RBI single to right field. That gave the rookie 26 RBIs over a span of 33 games. Tigers manager Jim Leyland came and took Porcello out of the game.
Lefthanded-hitting Ryan Kalish drew a walk off lefty reliever Phil Coke to extend the inning. Pedro Ciriaco’s single to right cut the Detroit lead to 6-4. That gave Ciriaco 10 RBIs in 21 games since he was called up.
Carl Crawford cut further into the lead when he led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a homer off Coke, his second of the season.
The Tigers got the run back off Andrew Miller when Delmon Young wrapped a home run around the Pesky Pole to lead off the eighth inning.
Detroit relievers Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, and Jose Valverde set down the final nine Red Sox in order.
“We won the series, that’s what we need to do,’’ Middlebrooks said. “We’ve been beating some good pitchers lately and that’s what we need to keep doing.’’