BOSTON -- Chalk up a couple of “firsts” for the Red Sox’ super-charged battery on Friday night.
Right-hander Ryan Dempster worked six solid, strikeout-filled innings for his first win in a Boston uniform, and his batterymate, catcher David Ross, notched the first four-for-four game of his 10-year career, including a pair of solo homers, in leading the Red Sox to a 7-3 victory over the Houston Astros at Fenway Park.
Dempster received plenty of offensive support. Boston pounded out a season-high 17 hits, including nine for extra bases. Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz joined Ross in the homer-hitting parade as the Sox scored at least one run in each of the first five innings for leads of 2-0, 5-1 and 6-2.
“It’s nice to get that first win out of the way, especially with a new team. Now I just want to build on it,” said Dempster, who signed a two-year free agent deal worth $26.5 million in the offseason.
It wasn’t as if Dempster had pitched poorly in his first four starts. The veteran’s earned-run average was a solid 3.38, but his record was 0-2. Friday night, though, Dempster was able to work out of a couple of jams, showing off an impressive repertoire of pitches featuring a fastball, slider and splitter in fanning a season-high-tying 10. He limited the youthful whiff-prone Astros (major-league-leading 232 K’s) to four hits and a pair of runs.
“He’s so reliable and dependable,” said Boston manager John Farrell. “He keeps the game in check and he’s done that every game so far.”
One factor Dempster has going for him, said Farrell, is that he has no fear. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder is confident enough to throw any of his pitches at any time in the count.
“The hitter can’t sit on any one approach,” said Farrell. “When he gets to a 3-and-2 count, he doesn’t give in. He’s not afraid to go to a full count, and when he gets there, to throw any of his pitches. He threw some of his best sliders on 3-and-2 counts. He’s able to go to any one of three pitches in two-strike situations.”
While Dempster fanned at least one batter in five of his six innings, including four in a row spanning the first and second innings, he also pitched a lot out of the stretch. Leadoff doubles in the third, fourth and fifth innings kept him from breezing.
“(After those doubles) I was trying to manage the inning and the game from there and I was able to do that and come away with a win,” said Dempster, who went 5-5 for the Cubs and 7-3 for the Rangers last year, bringing his career mark to 124-124 heading into this season.
The strikeouts certainly helped him. Dempster now has a team-leading 43 whiffs, though he’s hardly strikeout-happy -- even if he did just join Pedro Martinez as the only Red Sox pitchers since at least 1916 to fan at least seven in each of his first five career starts with Boston.
“Strikeouts are overrated,” said the 14-year veteran, who is a week away from his 36th birthday. “I’m just trying to get outs. I think fastball command (helps get strikeouts). If you can put that where you want it, you can expand the plate.”
And that’s what he did Friday night.
“He knows how to pitch,” said Ross. “He knows how to establish the fastball inside and out. He threw some great 3-and-2 sliders early in the game and a Bugs Bunny splitty, like a video game (pitch).”
As for Ross, meanwhile, his stats were hardly video game worthy before Friday night. Ross was batting an ugly .120, with only three hits in 25 at-bats. But Friday night he clubbed a couple of fat fastballs from Houston left-hander Erik Bedard over the Green Monster in the second and fourth innings, respectively, and added line-drive singles in the sixth and eighth.
“That’s the first time I’ve gone 4-for-4," said Ross, 36. “I’m pretty excited about that. It seems like every night there’s someone else (having a big night) for us. I’m excited to be part of that and be able to contribute.”
Ross took some early batting practice, and clearly it paid off.
“I haven’t been seeing the ball well. It’s a lot of work. I wanted to slow things down, get in a better rhythm. When you’re younger you just see ball, hit ball. As you get older you look at more videotape to see what (the opposing pitcher) might want to do. Sometimes you can think too much. You have to see ball, hit ball,” said Ross, who now has seven hits for the season, three of them homers.
Dempster appreciated the support.
“He was locked in. That was incredible. What a day,” said Dempster.
Ross’ big night, plus Dempster’s solid performance, kept the Big Red Sox Machine’s battery chugging atop the American league East standings, at 16-7.