The Red Sox are hesitant to allow starters to go deep into games
Martin Perez seemed to have the game well under control. The lefty had tossed five strong innings, allowing only one run on four hits. Perez appeared to have plenty left in the tank with a modest pitch count of only 74 but Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora went to his bullpen for the sixth inning instead of sending his starter out for another frame.
The move backfired when reliever Matt Andriese served up a solo home run to Trey Mancini to give the Baltimore Orioles a one-run lead in the sixth. Andriese was tagged with two more runs in the eighth inning to allow the O’s to pull away and salvage the series by avoiding a sweep.
The decision to give Perez an early hook didn’t pan out but Cora stands by his reasoning, according to MassLive’s Christopher Smith.
"“Because we were set up with (Matt) Andriese with all those righties,” Cora explained. “And I felt like that was good enough (for Pérez) today. He did an amazing job. Had good stuff. Kept them off balance. Just one pitch — that cutter that ran into Mountcastle. But besides that, he was really good and we were set up with Matt to go multiple innings today. So that’s the reason I did it.”"
The Orioles were set to start the sixth inning with Mancini, arguably their most dangerous hitter, followed by Ryan Mountcastle, who had already taken Perez deep with a solo homer in the second. Pedro Severino would be the third consecutive right-handed hitter due up, followed by the switch-hitting Freddy Galvis, who fares better against lefties. If Cora was going to make a move to take out his lefty starter to counter the right-handed heavy portion of Baltimore’s lineup, this was the opportune moment to make the switch.
His pitch count was low enough that Perez could have kept going but he hasn’t made it through a full six innings yet this season. If the plan was to turn the game over to Andriese when Perez was done for the day, it made sense to give the reliever a clean inning.
Cora also pointed to Perez’s last outing against the Tigers when he went 5 2/3 innings. The lefty was great through the first five frames but a two-out base hit to drive in a pair of runs in the sixth spoiled his outing. Pulling him early in Baltimore appears to be an attempt to avoid making the same mistake.
The decision didn’t work out this time when the bullpen failed to keep the O’s off the scoreboard but that doesn’t mean the logic wasn’t sound. The Red Sox have had success this season with this strategy of getting through five innings with their starter and leaning on the bullpen to handle the rest.
Red Sox starters have pitched 5+ innings in 14 of the past 15 games and 29 of 36 games overall this season, trailing only the Dodgers (30). However, Boston has been hesitant to push their starters much further. The rotation has combined for 16 starts of exactly five innings. Garrett Richards has made it through seven innings twice while Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi have each done it once. No pitcher on this staff has gone deeper than seven innings this season. It’s typically five or six, then it’s time for the bullpen.
When the 26-man roster is stacked with 14 pitchers, you can get away with leaning on the bullpen more. Boston’s bullpen has been solid, ranking sixth in the American League with a 3.88 ERA. If their starter can get through at least five innings without trailing, their core of relievers can usually be trusted to give the team a chance to win.
Being cautious with the workload of their starters is also about preserving their arms. The season is a marathon, not a sprint. Limiting Perez to five innings didn’t work out this time but the strategy should benefit this staff in the long run.
Most teams would gladly take five strong innings from their No. 5 starter. We’ll never know if Perez would have shut down the O’s for one more inning or if he would have coughed up the lead just as quickly as Andriese did. Cora has shown that he’s not willing to push is starters at this stage of the season and as long as it’s working most of the time for the first-place Red Sox then there’s no reason for the manager to deviate from the plan.