To make matters worse, the Red Sox now have a Matt Barnes-sized problem in their bullpen.
Looking a bit lost on the mound, unable to throw strikes and struggling to put hitters away, Barnes blew a tie game in the ninth, allowing four runs as the Tampa Bay Rays earned an 8-4 win on Tuesday, their sixth straight victory against the sinking Red Sox.
“Barnesy right now, he’s doing his best,” manager Alex Cora said. “I should probably take care of him in a sense. It’s not fair, obviously. He wants to do it, he’s willing to do it. But it’s been a grind for him lately. It was a grind for us tonight.”
Barnes entered in the ninth and struggled with his command as three batters reached. With the game tied, two outs and the bases loaded, he then hung a curveball that barely curved to Francisco Mejia, who smoked it into right field as all three runs crossed home plate.
It was the Rays’ 36th come-from-behind win this season, most in the majors. The Sox have 33, second-most.
They’ll need their biggest comeback of the year if they’re to return to the top of the American League East, where they’re now five games back of the Rays, who have their largest lead of the season.
“We just need a good, sound game, from first pitch to last one. Kind of breathe a little bit and just enjoy it,” Cora said.
Barnes took the loss for the third time in four games. He blew a tie game on Saturday, when he threw one pitch to Marcus Semien, who walked it off for the Blue Jays. And the Sox’ All-Star closer blew it Sunday, when he coughed up an 8-6 lead by allowing a three-run jack to George Springer in the eighth inning of a 9-8 loss.
“For how valuable he is for us, how much we rely on him, there are certain situations that for his benefit, body-wise, we’re better off staying away from him, giving him this entire game off,” Cora said. “For us to be better, everyone has to contribute. I think it’s more that than anything else. We still trust the guy, we know he’s good.”
Some other takeaways from this one:
1. Eduardo Rodriguez isn’t going anywhere.
As the Red Sox plan to shuffle their rotation with the return of Chris Sale, there’s no need to question whether or not Rodriguez will be a part of it.
The lefty dazzled against a tough Rays team on Tuesday, spotting cutters, elevating fastballs and dropping changeups through the zone while he struck out eight batters over 5 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs on four hits, walking one.
The Red Sox could really use some length, which Rodriguez has not provided, but he’s really been quite good for nine starts. In that span, he’s posted a decent 3.74 ERA, but he’s struck out a remarkable 61 batters in 43 1/3 innings while holding them to an average under .240 and an OPS under .700.
His only mistakes Tuesday were hanging a fastball to Brandon Lowe, who hammered it for a solo shot in the second inning, and an RBI single by Wander Franco as Rodriguez departed in the sixth.
“We have to get better if we want to make it to the playoffs — start pitching better every time,” Rodriguez said. “Relievers, starters, everyone has to put it together.”
2. It was a good sign that Hirokazu Sawamura was healthy enough to pitch after exiting Sunday’s game with elbow tightness. Sawamura cleaned up Rodriguez’s mess in the sixth before the Sox turned it over to trusty rookie Garrett Whitlock.
But for the first time since May 5, a span of 24 appearances, Whitlock allowed multiple earned runs in an appearance.
The Rays did all their work against Whitlock’s 97-mph sinker, a pitch that’s worked so well for him this year. A few well-placed sinkers were smacked around to put two on for Ji-Man Choi, who got a 98-mph sinker on the lower corner and roped it for a two-run double that tied the game, 4-4.
At least the Sox are now letting Whitlock throw some more innings. He bounced back and handled two outs in the eighth, too, throwing 37 pitches overall, tied with his most recent outing for the most pitches he’s thrown since May 13.
3. It’s been a tough stretch for Chaim Bloom, who led the Red Sox through a mellow trade deadline and watched his team plummet in the standings since then. But at least one of Bloom’s decisions has been working out just fine.
Hunter Renfroe torched his former team on Tuesday night. He was 2-for-4 including an energy-filled three-run homer in the fourth inning that temporarily put the Sox ahead 4-1.
Since the Rays DFA’d him last November and Bloom signed him for $3.1 million, Renfroe has done alright against his former team: 12-for-40 (.300) with five doubles, three homers and nine RBI in 10 games.
Rafael Devers had a solo shot in the second inning for his 28th of the year, but the Sox’ heart of the order struggled to add on in the middle innings.