Red Sox’ losing streak hits five with lifeless loss to Tigers

Reinforcements are coming soon for the Red Sox, with Chris Sale’s return likely next week and Kyle Schwarber’s looming.

But with the way things are going, they’re in need of a spark much sooner.

After a disappointing series sweep to the Rays over the weekend, Monday served as a welcomed reset for Alex Cora’s group. But when they returned Tuesday, it was just more of the same. Garrett Richards once again left more to be desired and the offense again couldn’t engineer much of anything as they failed to rally in a 4-2 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.

The Red Sox (63-45) have now lost five in a row, continuing their longest losing streak of the season as they stayed one game back of the Rays.

“Teams go through these stretches, no matter how good they are or how bad they are,” Hunter Renfroe said. “They go through these stretches. This is a tough game. It’s a hard game. And when teams go through this, you kind of figure out what you’re made of. We’ll come out of this stronger and understand our team a little better.”

Despite a promising start, it all unraveled. The Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Renfroe’s solo homer in the second inning, and though he served up a homer to Miguel Cabrera, Richards looked sharp early, striking out four through the first three innings, using a nasty slider that left the Tigers fooled.

But then came the fourth, an inning that haunted Richards last week. The righty gave up a pair of tough-luck singles to start the frame before issuing a walk to Jeimer Candelario to load the bases. Remarkably, Richards got out of the inning with one run to show for it on a sacrifice play by Harold Castro.

But it was the beginning of the end for him, as he walked No. 9 hitter Derek Hill before allowing a go-ahead RBI double to Akil Baddoo. That ended his night, as Cora gave him the hook after just 72 pitches. For a consecutive game start, Richards pitched into the fifth but couldn’t record an out.

“It’s frustrating,” Richards said. “This has been the worst year of my career. Just trying to find a way to give us a chance to win every night and take steps forward.”

The Red Sox rotation has just two quality starts in their last 23 games, and their struggles have been magnified over their last eight games, a stretch in which they’re 2-6. During that period, Sox starters have posted a ghastly 8.47 ERA. Only once in those games has a starter pitched five innings — Nathan Eovaldi’s start on Saturday in which he gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings.

With Sale and Tanner Houck both returning soon, a shakeup might be necessary. But it won’t come this week, with Saturday’s doubleheader in Toronto locking them into the schedule. Cora said Richards will make his next scheduled start on Sunday.

After that? It remains to be seen. With Sale coming back to the rotation, Richards is an obvious candidate to be taken out. But he isn’t buying into the notion that he’s fighting for his life in the rotation, where he feels like he belongs.

“Not at all,” Richards said. “That’s you guys, not me. …
“I mean, I’m a starting pitcher. I have an ability to throw 100 pitches and keep my stuff the whole time. I feel like that in itself, not many people can do it.”

Cora didn’t rule out the possibility of making changes.

“We’re talking about it,” Cora said. “If we have to make adjustments we will. But we still believe in these guys. We do believe they can go five, six innings and put us in a good spot to win.”

They certainly haven’t had any help, either. After scoring 10 runs in three games over the weekend, the Red Sox offense were unable to string anything together Tuesday. The frustrations mounted in the seventh, when Jarren Duran led off with a single in front of the heart of the lineup. But Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez each followed with strikeouts.

The Red Sox struck out 10 times against a Tigers team that ranks second-to-last in the American League in punchouts. And after seemingly coming back from every deficit just a few weeks ago, there seems to be no magic in their tanks right now.

“At the end of the day, they scored four runs,” Cora said. “And offensively we believe we can score more. This is more about the offense right now than the pitching. They scored three on Saturday, we didn’t find a way to win it offensively. And they scored four today. Four runs against us, we believe we should win those ballgames.”

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