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Nick Pivetta, Red Sox take Padres pounding in fifth inning of loss


Nick Pivetta, Red Sox take Padres pounding in fifth inning of loss

Midgame disorientation is becoming uncomfortably familiar. In each of their last three games, Red Sox pitchers have allowed at least five runs in a single inning. According to Elias, it’s the first time opponents have hung a five-spot (or more) against the Sox in back-to-back-to-back games since Sept. 18-20, 2004.

The early innings offered a deceiving suggestion of a pitcher’s duel between Sox starter Nick Pivetta and Padres counterpart Randy Vásquez. After three scoreless frames, the Sox took a 1-0 lead when Wong, back from the paternity list, punched a bloop RBI single to shallow right field with two outs in the fourth.

That promising start unraveled with shocking rapidity in the fifth. Pivetta (4-5, 4.52 ERA) had featured a powerful fastball that averaged 95.2 miles per hour m.p.h., his best velocity of the year. But the Padres, who entered the day with the second-lowest strikeout rate in baseball (18 percent), proved adept at fouling off the offering.

Pivetta needed to lean on his sweeper to finish at-bats. He did that for four innings, but in the fifth, its movement narrowed, his pitches staying over the plate. The Padres pounced.

Five straight Padres reached base to open the inning — the most damaging blow coming from the second, Kyle Higashioka, who launched a grim sweeper for a two-run homer and a 2-1 San Diego lead.

A double (Bryce Johnson), single (the magic wand-wielding Luis Arraez), wild pitch, and walk (Jurickson Profar) followed. The bases were loaded with no outs in a one-run game when manager Alex Cora employed a relatively quick hook.

“I’m usually not that aggressive going in the bullpen, but with two days off [for the bullpen Wednesday and Thursday], I’m trying to give them a different look,” Cora said.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Pivetta has seen diminishing returns when working deeper into games this year. He entered Friday having held hitters to a .583 OPS his first time through the order, a mark that jumped to .784 the second time around and rocketed to .979 in hitters’ third view of him.

So, Cora turned to reliever Greg Weissert to put out the fire. Instead, Weissert applied a bellows.

Weissert allowed a two-run single (Jake Cronenworth), infield single (Machado), and another two-run single (Donovan Solano). Finally, with two on and no outs, Jackson Merrill delivered the coup de grâce, lining a 94-m.p.h. fastball just over the fence by the flagpole in center field for a three-run homer, the rookie’s 11th.

The nine-run eruption represented the largest single-inning yield by the Sox staff this season. Disconcertingly, the new low point for the pitching staff cleared (or, perhaps more accurately, fell short of?) a bar that had been set just three days earlier when Brayan Bello gave up seven runs in the third inning against the Blue Jays.

San Diego’s offensive explosion — a continuation of a nine-game stretch that has seen the Padres go 8-1 while averaging 7.9 runs per game — added to warning signals surrounding the Red Sox. Even amid the Sox’ best stretch of the season, the team’s pitching, and especially its rotation beyond Tanner Houck, is amid an early-summer sputter.

Pivetta’s outing marked the second straight and third in four starts he lasted fewer than five innings, a span in which he has a 6.98 ERA with five homers allowed in 19⅓ innings.

“It’s dissatisfying,” Pivetta said. “I haven’t been doing my job.”

He’s not alone. The rotation as a whole has a 4.79 ERA in June. The staff, meanwhile, has allowed at least three runs in 18 straight games, the longest such streak since a 20-game run in 2019.

“Guys are grinding,” Wong said. “Guys’ innings are getting up there. I don’t think that’s an excuse but just keep going, keeping making pitches and adjustments as we need to.”

The Padres did not score again thanks to four scoreless innings from long reliever Chase Anderson. It didn’t matter.

The Red Sox offense was mostly dormant throughout the rest of the evening, save for two particularly notable hits: a liner up the middle by Ceddanne Rafaela off the forearm of Vásquez, which knocked the Padres starter out of the game in the fifth inning; and a 439-foot blast by Rafael Devers into the center field bleachers in the sixth. It was the 17th homer of the year for Devers and his 13th since May 15, matching the most in any 38-game span of his career.

“The big boy is seeing the ball really, really well,” Cora said. “He’s in one of those stretches that is going to be fun for a while.”

The loss, their second straight, left the Sox with a 43-38 record at the season’s midpoint, trailing the Royals by 1½ games for the third and final American League wild card.

“We are where we’re at — in the mix [for] making it to the playoffs,” Cora said. “We’re going to keep working hard to make [the players] better and we’re going to keep playing good baseball. I do believe, I truly believe, there’s going to be meaningful games here in September.”

Alex Speier can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @alexspeier.

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