Same equation: Bullpen excellent, starters awful

BOSTON -- Thursday night at Fenway Park gave Bobby Valentine the chance, once again, to be reminded of two things. His starting pitching is a mess, and his bullpen is fantastic, or at least it has been for nearly three weeks.

With an additional 6 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Josh Beckett, the 'pen dropped its ERA since April 23 to 1.46, tops in the majors in that span. And that includes Darnell McDonald's one inning of work (he gave up a three-run homer to Baltimore's Adam Jones in the 17th on Sunday), so the numbers for the actual relief pitchers on the roster are even better.

So what looked like the club's Achilles heel in the early days of the season has become a strength. That's the good news. However, Valentine never wants to use his relievers for 6 2/3 innings a night. And such scenarios have become commonplace as Red Sox starters continue to fall flat.

Is Valentine concerned with overworking his bullpen?

"Yes. Very," he said. "It's been called to the task too many times thus far. Answered the bell very often."

Consider that in that run of dominance since April 23 the bullpen has thrown 68 innings. In just 17 games. That is an average of four innings per game. There were some extra-inning affairs in there, but the issue remains an obvious one. Unless Beckett and his cohorts get their act together, Valentine is going to have a burned-out bullpen before the All-Star break.

Unfortunately, his hands have been tied. There isn't much the skipper can do when opponents are ripping cutter after cutter out of Beckett's hand and the scoreboard becomes more lopsided by the minute.

"I think the bullpen's been outstanding and so we're going in the right direction there," Valentine said. "The starters have to get it together."

When pressed on whether there was any way to fix it, Valentine was succinct.

"Pitch better," he said. "I'm not going to start the bullpen and have the starters finish the game. The guys that we have designated as our starters have to go out and pitch better. I don't know any other way to express that."

First up? Clay Buchholz, who has been one of the primary culprits in failing to finish six innings in half of his six starts.