BOSTON Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine gave his starting pitchers a vote of confidence after Thursday night's 83 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.
Perhaps that's all he can do, at this point. With Josh Beckett chased from the game in the third inning after allowing seven runs on seven hits and two walks, it made for another night of hefty relief work from the Red Sox bullpen.
Six-and-two-thirds innings, to be exact. Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Scott Atchison, Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves combined to allow just one Indians run after relieving Beckett. It marks the fourth time in the last seven games that the Red Sox bullpen has pitched more than six innings.
Red Sox relievers have now pitched 48.2 innings with a 1.66 ERA in nine games since the start of May. Since May 1, Red Sox starters have pitched just 42.1 innings.
"It's challenging every night," said Valentine. "And the relievers are doing a great job. They're getting ready. They're coming in throwing strikes, quality pitches. I tip my hat to them.
"I think when we start getting some consistent innings early in the game from the starters, things will look a lot better."
So Valentine can either pray that the offense decides to bust out and win some of these marathon bullpen affairs. Or, he can hope for what this team truly needs to have happen: his starting pitchers showing up on a more consistent basis.
Because right now, even after seeing the bullpen throw 6.2 more innings of work, the Red Sox are saying that they're not yet concerned about the heavy workload this early in the year.
"You have spurts where you get a lot of innings, and then you'll have spurts where the starters are lights out, throwing seven and eight innings, every time, and you're not getting as many innings," said reliever Scott Atchison after Thursday night's loss. "So no concern, really, there. I think everybody's feeling good and feeling strong. And we kind of got through the Kansas City trip all right, and I think everybody's ready to go.
"The starters have proven it too many times before," added Atchison. "So, we know they're going to pick it up, and get to throwing the ball well. And when that happens, everything should start rolling."
Atchison's has thrown a Major League-leading 22 relief innings, and Thursday's appearance marked his Major League-high seventh outing of at least two innings this season.
He himself has held opponents scoreless in his last seven appearances.
"When you come into those games, I think everybody's just trying to put up zeros and give us a chance to get back into the game a little bit," said Atchison after Thursday's loss. "We were able to do that a little bit tonight. Everybody threw great. I think Andrew Miller kind of set the tone from the get-go, when he came in, and we all just kind of followed suit."
"The 'pen's been doing great," said Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach. "They've been throwing the ball well. We've been asking them to do a lot here the last few weeks, and they've done a great job for us. We're fortunate that they've been throwing the ball so well."
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the relievers have been the only ones doing that.