While the Sox hitters have struggled, the mighty Sox bullpen has been impressive since the All-Star break and collectively haven’t allowed an earned run in the second half (in 24 innings) through Monday night’s action. The starters have had mixed results, however. Wins for John Smoltz and Brad Penny have been hard to come by lately and both have had similar problems, though Penny has clearly been the more successful of the two and for a longer period of time. Whether the pitchers have two strikes on hitters or two outs and two strikes, both pitchers have had a hard time getting that third strike or out.
For Penny, such troubles have mainly led to high pitch counts and thus, five to six innings of work. For Smoltz, he is having “the big inning” problem Jon Lester had early in ‘09, giving up a bunch of runs in one inning in contrast to quieter innings.
The slumping Sox offense provided no help for Smoltz on Sunday in its 6-2 loss to Baltimore. A tumultuous third inning did him in as the Orioles, led by Nick Markakis, had a three-run rally to take a 4-0 lead. And Smoltz was one strike away from getting out of it unscathed. In the end, John Smoltz gave up six earned runs. It marked only the second time in the 42-year-old veteran’s career he has given up six runs in consecutive outings.
Smoltz (1-4) has said it would take about five starts to get his legs under him, so-to-speak, but Sunday was his sixth start and the Sox are 1-5 when he pitches. Terry Francona is calling for “patience” with Smoltz, who says that despite his high ERA (7.04) that his “stuff” is getting better with each outing. And despite the struggles of the Sox recently, I’m sure most Sox fans are willing to give the future Hall of Famer time to find “it,” the boos at Fenway on Sunday notwithstanding. Besides, if starting doesn’t work out, there’s always the bullpen. But I’m not sure the Sox need him there.