Commentary

Red Sox still treading water

Season-long trend of 'one step forward, two steps back' continues

Updated: August 3, 2012, 8:34 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- A roll call, please, of all the starting pitchers who have had scoreless outings of six innings or more against the Boston Red Sox this season.

Well, there was the Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander, on Opening Day in Detroit. A former Cy Young Award winner, Felix Hernandez. A two-time All-Star with the second-lowest ERA in the National League this season, Ryan Dempster. A guy with a proven track record and four-star nickname, "Big Game" James Shields.

Even the most critical fan can accept that his team will be dominated by the best on a given night.

But then you fill out the rest of that dance card, and the disbelief kicks in. Journeyman Toronto lefty Aaron Laffey, twice in a month's time? A 23-year-old White Sox rookie named Jose Quintana?

And then there was the newest addition to that list, the one on the hill for the Minnesota Twins for six innings of Thursday night's 5-0 whitewash of the Red Sox. Maybe the most improbable of all.

Samuel Deduno -- evidently the Dominican Republic allows just one ball-playing "Sammy" per generation -- signed his first pro contract in the island nation in 2003 and is now 29 years old. He has won as many as 10 games only once in his career, and that was in Double-A. He missed the 2008 season because of Tommy John surgery. A month ago, he was pitching against Triple-A Pawtucket.

Thursday night in Fenway Park, he stepped up in class, facing Pawtucket's parent team, the Red Sox. This was his fifth major league start. He threw more balls (51) than strikes (50). And he has now won his past three starts, or three more than Jon Lester has won since June 27.

Deduno and two relief pitchers, one of whom (Casey Fien) belonged to the Red Sox for two days, combined to shut out Boston on two hits on a deflating night that ran counter to the popular notion that the Sox were about to use the Minnesota Twins, one of the American League's weakest links (45-60), as catalyst to a hot streak.

Instead, with Deduno allowing hits only to Adrian Gonzalez (a double and single) and the bullpen setting down the last nine Sox hitters in order, the Twins pinned a second straight loss on the Red Sox, who dropped back to .500 (53-53), nine games behind the idle New York Yankees in the AL East.

[+] EnlargeDustin Pedroia
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDustin Pedroia's frustration was evident after another disappointing loss.

"You don't have to talk to anybody else," a steaming Dustin Pedroia said afterward. "Jonny pitched great. We [stunk]."

The Red Sox had back-to-back, last at-bat wins in the Bronx against the Yankees. They came home and smacked around the Detroit Tigers on Monday night, then caught a break with a rain-shortened win Tuesday, the game called with the Tigers at bat and the tying runs on base.

In four days, they had picked up four games in the standings, giving sudden heft to what at the time had seemed a preposterous claim by manager Bobby Valentine that maybe the Yankees weren't going to win the division after all.

But then the Tigers' big boppers did a number on Aaron Cook on Wednesday night, and the Twins, enduring their second straight year of rebuilding after back-to-back division titles, put a further hold on playoff ticket sales by shutting out the Red Sox at home for only the second time this season. The Twins had gone 20 seasons since they'd held the Red Sox to fewer hits, Scott Erickson going the distance in a one-hitter to beat Roger Clemens, 4-0, on July 24, 1992.

"I don't think we're deflated. We've been fighting all year, we'll keep fighting," Valentine said. "I think [we're] a little deflated right now, we just got shut out. But I think we'll also be angry."

One step forward, two steps back, and another unnecessary pregame hoohah, Valentine spending part of his afternoon explaining comments during a radio appearance the day before. Valentine, appearing on WEEI's "The Big Show" on Wednesday, had described a minor tempest caused by a sarcastic remark he'd made to rookie Will Middlebrooks, one the kid later said he didn't remember hearing. Valentine claimed Thursday to be annoyed to have to talk about something no one would have known about if he hadn't brought it up in the first place.

He also made a peculiar allusion during the radio appearance to pitching coach Bob McClure having taken a "two-week vacation," before quickly correcting himself and saying, "I'm sorry, not vacation, his two weeks away from the team." McClure had left the club because of an emergency medical issue involving one of his very young children; how Valentine uttered "vacation," even for a moment, is mystifying.

If it seems that the Red Sox offense, which began the night just three runs behind the Texas Rangers for most in the AL, has had more games this season than last in which it scuffled to score, you're not imagining things. Last season, the Sox had 55 games in which they scored two runs or fewer. Only the Yankees had fewer (49). This season, they already have had 47, tied for eighth most in the league, and are on pace for 71.

They scored five or more runs 77 times last season; they're on pace for 76 this season. The loud big nights are happening with the same frequency; the silent nights have increased, which may have one very simple explanation: not enough Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury has played just 19 games since missing three months with a partially dislocated shoulder, and he's still feeling his way back. Ellsbury has only 3 RBIs in that span, 11 runs scored, 6 extra-base hits and had a matching 0-for-4 with Carl Crawford on Thursday night, when the first two hitters in the order hit just one ball out of the infield.

David Ortiz was eligible to come off the disabled list Wednesday; now it's uncertain whether he will come back this weekend. The Red Sox added another bat in Ryan Lavarnway and gave him his first start Thursday; he had a hit taken away from him by Twins shortstop Brian Dozier in the second and lined out to left with two on to end the sixth.

That was one of three times the Sox left two men on base against Deduno. Cody Ross popped to short to end the first, and Middlebrooks flied to center to end the fourth.

"His ball was moving everywhere," Gonzalez said. "Cutting, sinking. Good sliders, good curveballs. Wildly effective. He threw a good game."

Lester, meanwhile, pitched superbly, but was beaten by the kind of two-out hits that come when nothing you try works to your favor. Ben Revere hit a soft liner in the third over the head of Pedro Ciriaco to knock in one run, and Ryan Doumit hit a changeup that was a foot and a half off the plate for an RBI double to right in the sixth.

Lester gave up seven hits, did not walk a batter and struck out seven in eight innings, but was left to answer why he hasn't won a game since June 27. "Jon was awesome," Gonzalez said. "He deserved to win. He gave us everything we could ask for."

Dozier hit a two-run homer off Alfredo Aceves in the ninth.

On Friday night, the Red Sox will face a left-hander, Brian Duensing, who is just 2-6 this season, was just restored to the rotation six weeks ago and has pitched a total of five innings in his career against Boston.

Easy pickings? Ask Samuel "Don't Call Me Sammy" Deduno.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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