Sweltering weekend losses put Sox in tight spot

July 21st, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Dave Dombrowski spent his entire weekend in the front row of Camden Yards’ open-air press box, surviving Baltimore’s 100-plus heat index and weighing critical questions ahead of the July 31 Trade Deadline. Numerous fans approached Boston’s president of baseball operations asking for pictures, to which he obliged every time.

Several thanked him for what he was able to put together in 2018. A few offered their advice -- “[Giants reliever] would look great in a Red Sox uniform!” one yelled. Dombrowski kindly smiled and waved back.

On the field, Dombrowski watched the Red Sox drop two of three to the last-place Orioles, including a one-hit, 5-0 loss on Sunday afternoon. Boston, which desperately needed a boost out of the All-Star break, has fallen to 5-5 since then. Its 54-46 overall record ranks seventh among 15 American League teams -- true limbo, in other words.

Depending on the results of a string of 14 consecutive games that lead up to the July 31 Trade Deadline -- all against AL East rivals Tampa Bay and New York – the type of choices that need to be made could become clearer.

For now, though, Dombrowski and his staff face a situation envious to no one, unaided by a perplexing shutout a night after an offensive explosion.

“It’s a tough one, of course. But we have to turn the page,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “We know what starts tomorrow. … We have a tough schedule coming now and [have to] be ready for it.”

Boston has already taken a stab at addressing the starting pitching issue via trade, which came in the form of Sunday’s starter . But his two outings for Boston thus far have left plenty to be desired, as he admits.

Cashner had no support on Sunday as the Red Sox lineup was no-hit by Baltimore journeyman for six innings until a leadoff double from in the seventh broke up the no-no. It ended up being the only hit of the afternoon for the visitors.

Pitching in Camden Yards with little fanfare just eight days after being traded from the Orioles, Cashner allowed four runs in six innings -- all via a pair of homers from and an opposite-field RBI double by .

Cora and Cashner hoped his first performance Tuesday in Boston -- where he was tagged for five runs in as many innings against the Blue Jays -- was a fluke given it came after a 10-day hiatus due to the timing of both the All-Star break and the trade.

At first on Sunday it seemed like it would be the same dance as his first start in Sox uniform. But Cashner rebounded to face just one batter over the minimum on 39 pitches in his final three innings after throwing 66 pitches over the first three.

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“I thought -- other than those pitches -- I thought I threw the ball really well today,” Cashner said of the two homers. “Couple of adjustments here and there, and I think I’m right where I want to be.”

At the very least, he provided some relief for the bullpen and length for a pitching staff that saw just four innings from Friday and five from Saturday.

“That’s what we’re looking for: length,” Cora said. “We haven’t been able to do that in that spot the whole season although … he’s not happy with it, but six innings, it was good for us.”

It was the one positive note for a Red Sox team that continues to be maddeningly puzzled at its inconsistency in 2019, especially out of the break. Time will only tell if Cashner is the lone midseason roster addition apart from some injury returns, whether there will be more deals made to add or whether the Red Sox pack in the up-and-down season and sell off any assets to refocus on next year.

The former is the more likely option for Dombrowski, given his history of aggressiveness and due in part to moments like Saturday, when Boston reasserted its dominance with 17 runs and showcased its potential to make a late-season run.

No matter how this next week-plus unfolds, potential continuing to resurface or not, answers will come easier.

“If I knew the answer to [how to fix our performance], we’d be doing it. We have to play better in all aspects,” infielder said when asked about the lack of consistency. “We have a good stretch here against teams that we are chasing, so this is a good time to start if we are going to do it.”