BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox are "covering the waterfront," CEO Larry Lucchino said Wednesday when discussing the team's approach to the trading deadline.
That sounds like the team's scouts have commandeered the Iroquois, John W. Henry's yacht, in search of a seaworthy player or two. But we can confidently report that Sox scouts have been spotted fanning the country's highways and byways as well, charged by general manager Ben Cherington to report back with any sightings of pitchers who could be had for a fair price -- which, in this case, means someone who won't cost the Sox any essential building blocks for the future.
By now, you know the names: Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Garin Cecchini, Blake Swihart. Can they hold onto all of them? It depends on the return, of course, but the Sox have never sounded more committed to preserving their precious youth. And so far, newly acquired reliever Matt Thornton has offered little in return for Brandon Jacobs, the tools-y outfielder the Sox dispatched to the Chicago White Sox for Thornton's services.
What no one really expected, with the Red Sox having led the civilized world in scoring runs this season, is that Boston's offense might need a little help, as well. The Sox have scored two runs or fewer in five of their past eight games, three since play resumed after the break, twice in the first three games of this series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The latest pitcher to shut down the Sox was Rays left-hander David Price, who was every bit as overpowering as teammate Matt Moore was Monday night, when he shut out the Sox on two hits. Mike Napoli's seventh-inning home run ended Price's string of zeroes, but the defending 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner dispatched the Red Sox in an insanely tidy 97 pitches, 72 of them strikes.
Those are the fewest pitches thrown against the Sox in a complete game since Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees needed just 93 pitches to beat them on April 11, 2008.
Since the break, the Sox have faced Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Moore and Price. They took care of Pettitte and battered CC, but the others have been a handful. It doesn't figure to get much easier Thursday, when Jeremy Hellickson, who is 7-1 with a 3.35 ERA since the beginning of June and is undefeated in seven career starts at Fenway, takes the mound with a chance to lift the Rays into first place over the Sox, who are clinging to a half-game lead.
"We've run up against some very good pitching," Sox manager John Farrell said. "The two lefties in this series, Kuroda in the previous series. We've gotten the best this division offers, and they've thrown the ball very well.
"The biggest thing is they've stayed ahead in the count."
Price dispatched the Sox in 10 pitches or fewer in four innings. The most balls he threw in an inning were six in the seventh. He did not walk a batter and struck out four. His fastball averaged a touch less than 96 mph. He maxed out at 97.
If he broke a sweat, he kept it to himself, except for when he applauded the dazzling double play turned by shortstop Yunel Escobar, who gloved a ball behind the second-base bag and flipped it backhanded with his glove to second baseman Ben Zobrist, who caught it barehanded and gunned a throw to first to complete the double play.
"That's a big part of our game, trying to wear 'em down," said Dustin Pedroia, the victim of Escobar's sleight of hand. "He wasn't just throwing strikes, but quality strikes, too, not in the middle of the plate.
"He's a Cy Young, man. Electric stuff, attacks the zone and can overpower you. He's pretty good. You try to be aggressive, but he was just better than us. Got to move on to tomorrow, get back to swinging our bats, and grinding 'em out."
The Sox have scored 23 runs in their past eight games, batting a collective .225 (61-for-271). Pedroia has come out of the break with just two hits in 19 at-bats, though it's a better-than-even bet that having to think about a $110 million contract extension doesn't square comfortably with his usual pregame routine. He had his on-field news conference Wednesday; he can now resume regularly scheduled programming.
"Glad it's over," he said.
No one is worried about Pedroia. Nor are they worried about Mike Napoli, who hit his third home run in four games to account for the only run off Price.
The left side of the infield, however, is a different story. Shortstop Stephen Drew just came off the DL on Saturday and has one hit in 12 at-bats. It may be just a matter of regaining his timing, although he has yet to hit with any sustained regularity this season, and has been abysmal against lefties (13-for-77, .169).
The kid third baseman, Jose Iglesias, who was still a .400 hitter as late as July 6 (.403), has been in free fall since, batting 9-for-52 (.173, all singles) with no walks in his past 14 games. No one thought Iglesias would hit like Ted Williams, but they are hoping he'll bring more to the table than Ted Lepcio.
In that context, Boston's interest in Phillies third baseman Michael Young makes sense, though the Phillies still have to decide whether they can make a run in the NL East. Will Middlebrooks had his third straight two-hit game for Pawtucket on Wednesday night, but GM Ben Cherington sounded in no hurry to bring him back.
"We have no time frame on it," Cherington said. "He's a talented player and we know we're going to need more talented players before the year is out. So I think that opportunity exists, but there's nothing planned. He's doing everything we asked him to do when he went down."
No one is suggesting Iglesias and Middlebrooks be yo-yo'd back and forth, but it may be nearing time to go back to the three-man rotation Farrell had employed earlier in the season. Or bring a newcomer, such as Young, into the mix.
The Sox have their own best pitcher, John Lackey, going in the series finale Thursday. The Sox have averaged 3.7 runs per game in Lackey's starts, the lowest run support of his career. An offensive reawakening Thursday would be timely.