Three things learned from Red Sox 9-5 loss to Orioles
1) It may be time to speed up Christian Vazquez's return to the big leagues
There's more going on with the Red Sox' pitching staff than the catcher. But there's also denying that Vazquez is clearly a superior receiver, thrower and handler of pitchers compared to Blake Swihart.
This isn't to overstate the misplay Swihart made on a foul pop-up in the sixth inning, which later led to Mark Trumbo hitting a mammoth two-run homer to left. Swirling winds played a factor, though Swihart also had difficulty with a ball in Rogers Centre, with the roof closed over the weekend.
This is more about the impact Vazquez can have a staff. He's known to take charge with pitchers, and they, in turn, have spoken about how comfortable they are throwing to him.
The Sox don't want to hurry Vazquez to the big leagues as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. But if they're playing Vazquez two out of every three games in Pawtucket, he can duplicate that schedule in Boston, with Ryan Hanigan more than capable of picking up some of the slack.
Swihart, as athletic as he is and with a higher upside offensively, could probably use some additional development time at Triple A.
2) On the road, the starters were digging holes. At home, they've been blowing leads
The offense has not been an issue. Other than a shutout loss to Toronto in the final game of the road trip, the Red Sox haven't been held to fewer than five runs in the other six games played. In five of the seven, they've scored six runs or more.
But on the season's first road trip, the offense had to scramble to make up for the starting pitching putting the team behind early. There were leads of 5-1 and 7-1 to overcome.
More recently, the offense has been connecting earlier. The Sox got David Price a 3-0 lead in the first inning in the home opener Monday, and Tuesday night, Clay Buchholz was gifted a 2-0 lead.
Each time, the starter failed to protect the lead. Price gave it back in the third inning, and Tuesday night, Buchholz squandered his by the fourth.
Neither outcome is a good one, and both have led the Red Sox to rely too heavily on their middle relief. That's almost never a good scenario in the big leagues; even the strongest pitching staffs are thin in the middle.
For the Red Sox, it means leaning on young pitchers who aren't established yet (Noe Ramirez and Matt Barnes) and a journeyman (Robbie Ross Jr.), who, until Tuesday night, had pitched well (scoreless over 2 2/3 innings).
But match up middle relievers often enough against tough lineups like Baltimore and Toronto, and trouble will ensue.
3) David Ortiz remains an ageless marvel
Hitting in (mostly) cold conditions, Ortiz has heated up quickly this year.
A year ago, he had four homers in the Red Sox' first 36 games; this year, he has three through the first seven.
Last season, he had three doubles for all of the month of April; this year, he has four in the first seven games.
The homers being hit, it should be noted, have not been cheap. Last night, he hit into the swirling winds in right, and the ball landed in the visitor's bullpen. One of his homers in Toronto was similarly struck.
Even at age 40, he remains the most feared hitter in the Red Sox lineup, and his hot start has helped lengthen the order, with contributions coming from the first seven spots.
So much for any talk or suggestion that Ortiz would be distracted from the year-long celebrations of his final year in this, The Long Goodbye. In mid-April, Ortiz is already locked in at the plate, making you wonder what's going to happen when the warm weather arrives.