Salty: 'We know we're better than that'

MIAMI -- Before Monday’s game, Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine shrugged off his team’s offensive struggles, saying all it needs is “a couple bloops” to break its slump.

“You get that one hit that continues the inning, and you get two or three to follow,” Valentine said. That’s how easy it can be to win a ballgame.

But the Red Sox were frustrated again after losing 4-1 to the Miami Marlins, their seventh loss in eight tries. The Red Sox mustered five hits and their only run came on a sacrifice fly. At 29-32, they’re in last place and three games under .500.

“We’re frustrated. I mean, everybody is,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “We want to win. We’ve got guys that care. We expect to do something special.”

After facing the Washington Nationals’ impressive Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, Boston drew another ace in Josh Johnson, Miami’s sometimes-dominant right-hander. Johnson, who has run into injury trouble the past few years, was on his game Monday. He struck out seven and walked one, keeping the Sox off-balance with a heavy fastball, biting slider and changeup.

“He was pretty tough,” Valentine said. “We had a couple opportunities against him, but he’s a darn good pitcher. He had that 95-miles-per-hour fastball working, and he was elevating against some of our guys. He did a good job. Every fire he put out.”

The Red Sox forced Johnson to throw 27 pitches in the first, but couldn’t bring anyone home. Leadoff man Scott Podsednik was stranded on second and Pedroia at first by the 3-4-5 combo of Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Those three, plus No. 6 batter Kevin Youkilis, were a combined 0-for-14.

Gonzalez's sacrifice fly in the fourth inning was the only damage Johnson allowed.

“Early in the game we had an opportunity to get some runs and he made pitches,” Pedroia said.

Podsednik, who was 3-for-4 with three singles and a steal, was a bright spot along with Pedroia, who pulled a liner down the left-field line for a double. That was a positive sign for the second baseman, who has had two extra-base hits since injuring his thumb May 13.

“I felt better the last few days,” Pedroia said. “It’s only a matter of time until I start taking off.”

It’s still a little early, and the injury list is still long, but this is a club that hasn’t seen third place all season.

“I don’t think they’re pressing,” Valentine said. “They’re probably trying really hard against some really good pitchers. We’ve faced four of them that have been outstanding.”

The Sox lost to a Miami team that carried a .197 batting average in its last six games, all losses. The Marlins posted a negative-33 run differential and a .100 average with runners in scoring position in those games.

“A lot of frustration. We know we’re better than that,” Saltalamacchia said. "It just seems like right now guys are pitching us really well, and we’re not hitting the mistakes. When you’re not hitting the mistakes, it’s tough to get back. Especially when they’re not making any mistakes.”

The last-place Red Sox still have room for error in the AL East, but it’s not May anymore. The last time Boston was three games under .500 this late in the season was 1997, when they sputtered to a 78-84 finish.

For an offense capable of much more than bloops, a similar finish would be a blunder Red Sox fans won’t soon forget.