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Sox look like they could use break

7/9/2013

SEATTLE -- No one should blame the Red Sox if they are beginning to count down the days until the All-Star break.

At 17 games above .500 and firmly situated in first place in the American League East since May 27, Boston’s list of worries for much of the season could have been filed on a yellow sticky note.

After all, it’s tough to complain when the club boasts the best offense (462 runs) in the majors and the second-best starting pitching (3.73 ERA) in the American League. Only recently has the wear and tear that every club experiences during the course of a season started to show.

The Red Sox's three-game losing streak was made more worrisome when manager John Farrell announced reliever Andrew Miller was likely out for the season hours before his bullpen was torched in an 11-4 loss to the Mariners. Toss in Shane Victorino’s battle with a bum hamstring and Jacoby Ellsbury’s sore wrist, and Farrell started to sound a little concerned.

“We’re a little beat up right now. We’re a little short defensively with position players, with day-to-day managing what we’re doing with some physical ailments,” Farrell said.

The injuries cost the Red Sox in their lopsided loss to Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and fourth-place Seattle. Forced into center field with Victorino and Ellsbury both out, Daniel Nava struggled to find his rhythm defensively. He mistimed a few jumps and failed to reel in a high-arcing Michael Saunders double that busted the game open in the sixth inning.

“We’ve got some discussion to take place here tonight, and any pending changes will come out of that meeting. So we’ll see where that takes us,” Farrell said.

With only a handful of minor league games in center, Nava was placed in a tough spot. Perhaps Jackie Bradley Jr. will be summoned to play center if the club thinks Ellsbury and Victorino will continue to be out.

Nava's bat hasn't been a concern, as he went 2-for-5 with an RBI on Monday, which raised his average to .296 and his power splits to .378/.449/.827.

Meanwhile, the Sox bullpen has gone from mostly ineffective to beat up. With Craig Breslow the only available left-hander out of the pen in the series opener against Seattle, Farrell went first to right-hander Alex Wilson.

The results weren’t pretty: three runs, three hits and a walk in just 1 1/3 innings of work.

“When he gets behind in the count, he center-cut some fastballs that some guys squared up,” Farrell said. “He’s been a pretty reliable strike-thrower in the time he’s been here, but there’s been a little bit of a tendency of late to get behind in the count, and big league hitters are going to make a pitcher pay for that.”

Starter Jon Lester’s problem had little to do with being unable to throw strikes. Lester (8-5, 4.60 ERA) tossed 73 of them in five innings. The Tacoma, Wash., native sounded peeved during his postgame interview when asked about the fourth-inning double Justin Smoak hit on a 1-2 pitch and the 0-2 cutter Raul Ibanez deposited into the right-field seats in the fifth.

“Obviously it’s frustrating but you can’t second-guess a pitch that in your head you wanted to go to,” he said of the Ibanez homer. “I felt like I had that pitch set up and obviously I didn’t.

“Sometimes when you make mistakes, you can get a little more frustrated, but I felt like I executed that pitch enough to not have that result,” he said.

Lester said he thought he pitched better than his final line indicated. He lasted just five innings and gave up five runs on nine hits, throwing 112 pitches and dropping his career record against Seattle to 4-3.

“The pitch count got him, and we had to make a move in that sixth inning,” Farrell said.

Lester at least had one positive to embrace after his road record moved to 5-5 and he again failed to recapture the dominant way he began the season. Through nine starts, he was 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA.

“It was nice to see family,” he said.

Although it couldn’t have been pleasant for them to witness a Boston bullpen implode while relievers Miller, Joel Hanrahan and Franklin Morales remain stashed away on the disabled list.

Farrell took away his own silver lining after watching Hernandez cruise through seven innings, surrendering six hits and two runs while striking out five.

“But still, we’re in this ballgame in the middle innings, and unfortunately it got away from us late,” he said.

The Red Sox have six more games to ensure their magical first half of the season doesn’t do the same before the All-Star break.