Sox Week: Maybe Boston’s power issues will bring Ortiz out of retirement

  • FILE - In this July 26, 2016, file photo, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and Detroit Tigers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia watch the flight of Ortiz's three-run home run during the third inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, in Boston. Big Papi, Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper are just a few of the big-name offensive stars leading their teams into the postseason. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) Charles Krupa

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale leads the league in most statistical categories after four starts. But going into Saturday’s games, he was ranked 94th of 102 qualifying pitchers in run support with 2.50 runs per game. The Red Sox have scored just four runs for Sale so far. Paul Sancya

  • Boston Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. hits a two-run home run in the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, Saturday, April 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

Monitor staff
Saturday, April 22, 2017

If David Ortiz is watching, he’s probably clutching a bat as if he’s on-deck at Fenway Park.

Ortiz likely hasn’t watched many Boston Red Sox games this season: He’s been busy relaxing at beach resorts and calling it “spring training.” But if he were watching, he would surely see what his old team is missing without him.

The Red Sox have hit just eight home runs through 18 games. Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers has eight home runs in 16 games.

It’s the least-powerful start for the Red Sox in 25 years. And it’s coming from a lineup that combined to hit 150 home runs a year ago. Boston hit six home runs through its first 20 games in 1992, getting out to an 11-9 start before finishing the year at 73-89.

The coaching staff doesn’t seem too worried about the lack of power. And if you ask hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, the team isn’t even talking about it.

“We talk more about line drives and doubles, more about hitting the ball hard wherever the ball is pitched,” Rodriguez said this week according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. “Power is the worst thing that you can think about because when they think about hitting for power, they get away from the things they do. Power will come with the right swing.”

The Red Sox aren’t necessarily having issues scoring runs. Going into Saturday’s games, Boston was ranked 17th in runs scored with 71; 15 of the teams ranked below the Sox had a losing record.

The Baltimore Orioles have one of the most powerful lineups in the league, going deep 23 times this season already. Yet they’ve only scored 66 runs.

“You can look at our home-run totals, but if you look at our total runs scored as a team, it’s nowhere near what the Red Sox did last year or what they’ve done in the past,” Baltimore hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh told the Providence Journal.

All things considered, the lack of power at the plate isn’t overly concerning. It’s good for this team to learn how to score runs without relying on a single bat, the way it did with Ortiz over his 14 years in Boston.

There’s also a small sliver of hope in the eternal optimist’s mind that maybe, just maybe Ortiz will get antsy and come out of retirement if the power issues linger deep into the season.

First-inning woes

The power issues may feel worse than they are because the Red Sox have had to play from behind in a majority of their games this season.

Chris Sale is the only Red Sox pitcher who hasn’t allowed a first-inning run this year. In contrast, Steven Wright has allowed nine.

Only the Washington Nationals have managed worse numbers in the first frame. Boston is ranked second in first-inning runs allowed with 1.00 per game.

It appears Rick Porcello has settled in slightly, despite taking his second loss of the young season Wednesday night in Toronto. Drew Pomeranz, too. But giving up early runs is a bad habit, especially when your team is struggling to find a guy who can consistently tie a game with one swing.

Unlucky Sale

If anyone deserves a little run support, it’s Sale. The 28-year-old has a 0.91 ERA through four starts but just a 1-1 record to show for it.

Sale’s 42 strikeouts lead the majors, making Clayton Kershaw’s second-best 32 punchouts look pedestrian, same with his 29.2 innings pitched. Sale also leads the majors in plenty of advanced stats like WAR, Adjusted Pitching Wins, Base-Out Runs Saved and Win Probability Added.

For all of the statistical categories Sale sits atop of, there’s one he’s very close to the bottom of. Going into Saturday’s games, he was ranked 94th of 102 qualifying pitchers in run support, getting an average of 2.50 runs per game. Boston has scored just four runs in Sale’s 29.2 innings.

Some have joked that if the lack of run support continues, the team may to want to hide the scissors and retro uniforms. But Sale doesn’t seem concerned.

“It’s not different if they score 10 runs every inning. It doesn’t matter what the score of the game is. You pitch to your strengths and you try to keep it where it’s at, no matter what,” he told reporters after the Red Sox picked up a 10-inning, 4-1 win over Toronto in his fourth start Thursday. “I’ve said it for years, there’s two stats that matter: win and loss.”

His dominance has at least caught the eye of the man whose records Sale could soon be chasing: Pedro Martinez.

The Hall of Famer tweeted following Sale’s latest start, saying, “If I am going to pay money to go see a pitcher right now it would be Chris Sale! The guy brings integrity to the game!”

The statline from Sale’s first four games (29.2 innings, 0.91 ERA, 42 strikeouts, 6 walks, 3 runs) has gotten a lot of airtime this week, and that’s mainly because of the striking similarities to the best start of Martinez’s career. In 1998, Martinez started the season with a 0.84 ERA through four starts, striking out 44 batters with seven walks over 32 innings pitched.

Pretty good company, I’d say.

I don’t think we’re in hide-the-scissors territory, but it would be nice if the offense could show Sale a little appreciation for his historic start and score him a run or two. Maybe even go a little crazy and score three if it’s not too much to ask.

Sale will probably be happy in Boston if he reaches the playoffs, something he’s never done in his career. The White Sox were a lowly 542-592 during his seven years in Chicago, but even those teams managed to give the guy 4-plus runs of support a game.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)