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Red Sox need to cut down AL East opponents' big blows

BOSTON -- The day after losing a matchup of first-place teams in the American League East, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell was frank in assessing his team’s position.

“I do know this, in the AL East, we’ve got to perform better from a bottom-line standpoint,” Farrell said Wednesday, reflecting on a 3-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles the night before. “Our win-loss record isn’t what we want it to be, and we’ve got to go out and continue to execute in those key moments [against division opponents].”

The Sox enter Wednesday’s matchup with the Orioles at 14-16 in division play. Included in that mark is a recent 1-5 stretch against Baltimore and Toronto, their primary competitors in the current AL East landscape. Those two teams are loaded with big bats, and Boston’s 5.16 ERA in matchups with the O’s and Blue Jays speaks volumes.

Seemingly, several of the 34 home runs allowed to Baltimore and Toronto have come at inopportune times.

“When we examine what we’re doing from a pitching standpoint, the batting average against is one of the best in the league,” Farrell said. “We have not done as good a job when we’ve had men on base, so the percentage of runs we’ve allowed to the home run, I don’t want to say are skewed, but they’re high because the number of bases we allow. Part of that is the walks that might precede a home run. The game is clearly built around power. Power arms, power bats and particularly in this division.”

The Sox have had a winning record in the division in each of their seven playoff seasons under the current ownership group.

While making a pitch in the right spot is important against high-powered offenses, having an offense that can keep pace is critical, too. Boston has a handful of players who have cooled off after hot starts, and the club is averaging 3.2 runs over its past five home games after being shut down by Chris Tillman on Tuesday.

First baseman Hanley Ramirez is a primary culprit, having gone nearly 30 games without a home run entering Wednesday night and seeing his average drop more than 30 points in that span.

“No, I’m not concerned about it,” Farrell said. “There’s been a timing issue that Hanley continues to work at. Certain at-bats and certain counts where the leg kick’s going to come into account. That’s something he’s used his entire career, something he’s conscious of. There’s been better contact over the last week. But certainly his bat, his potential to have power, is key for us.”

Farrell said he has not seriously considered moving Ramirez down in the lineup and that he feels as if cleanup hitter David Ortiz, who hits in front of Ramirez, is still seeing good pitches to hit.

In other pregame news:

• Farrell said he still sees Clay Buchholz as a starting pitcher and respects the fact that Buchholz was upset about not being put back in the rotation this time through. The team will call up Roenis Elias to take Friday’s start against Seattle while keeping Buchholz in the bullpen.

“The reasons have been given as to why,” Farrell said. “I will say this, since going to the bullpen, every effort has been made on his part to rectify the situation and perform to the best of his ability when the opportunities come. And I give him credit for that. He’s a professional. You pitch your way in, you pitch your way out. He’s going through that right now.”

Buchholz has thrown only 6 ⅓ innings in four relief appearances since his last start on May 26.

“The tough thing is how frequent do those opportunities come about to get back on track, and that’s something that’s very different for Clay from his time in the big leagues,” Farrell said.

• Another recent fifth starter candidate, Joe Kelly, has been throwing off flat ground from 180 feet as he tries to work his way back from a groin injury. Farrell said there is no date for Kelly to return to the mound.

• With Elias due to arrive Friday, there will be a roster shakeup that could see the team dramatically alter its bench, which has provided little pop and limited flexibility in the wake of injuries to Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, Ryan Hanigan and others.

“How do we get maybe a little bit more of an offensive threat in there?” Farrell said when detailing the nature of conversations with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “We’re trying to get a left-handed complement. Chris Young has done an outstanding job since taking over the everyday duties. We’re looking at how can we best match up if those needs arise late in games.”

Down a run in the ninth on Tuesday, the Sox sent Young, Josh Rutledge and Rusney Castillo to the plate and saw them retired on three straight strikeouts.