Coming off a five-game road trip in which lousy weather followed them from Detroit the Baltimore, the Red Sox headed home for the first time since the All-Star break to welcome the 47-53 Minnesota Twins into town. After their game against the Orioles got rained out in the second inning on Wednesday night, one might have expected the team to come out firing against the Twins on Thursday, but that simply was not the case.
In what might be his last start for the forseeable future with RHP Nathan Eovaldi being added to the 25-man roster earlier in the day, Brian Johnson made his sixth start of the year in this one, and he was solid yet again.
Pitching nearly six full innings, the lefty held the Twins scoreless while scattering four hits and three walks to go along with five strikeouts, something he has done in three straight starts.
Despite the goose egg in runs allowed, Johnson certainly was far from perfect and found himself working around a healthy amount of traffic in the first and last innings he appeared in.
The first lot of traffic on the base paths came in the first, as two of the first three Twins the Florida native faced in this game reached base on singles.
With runners on first and second, another single off the bat of Eduardo Escobar to center field looked like it was going to be good enough to score Joe Mauer from second for the first run of the evening. Luckily for the Red Sox, a cannon from Jackie Bradley Jr. to nab the Twins third baseman at the plate put a temporary hold on any immediate danger.
Two batters later though, the bases were loaded for the Twins after DH Mitch Garver had a drawn a seven pitch walk.
Faced with yet another tough spot early on, Johnson buckled down by striking out the next batter he faced in Robbie Grossman on another seven pitches to escape the jam and send this thing to the middle half of the first.
Including the strikeout of Grossman, the 27-year old starter/reliever hybrid went on to retire 14 straight Twins hitters from the first all the way to the top half of the sixth.
Once Eddie Rosario broke that streak by drawing a five pitch walk, Johnson’s night would soon come to an end, but not before a wild sequence took hold on a Brian Dozier single.
As can be seen in the video, Jackie Bradley Jr. gets this ball in as soon as possible to try to nab Eddie Rosario at third.
That did not pan out, and neither did Rafael Devers’ throw to Brock Holt at second to catch Dozier advancing to second.
What did work out here was someone on the left side of the infield communicating to Holt that Rosario was headed towards home.
After recovering from the attempted tag out of Dozier, the Red Sox utility man got up quickly, turned, and darted a near-perfect throw to Blake Swihart to get the out at the plate and prevent the Twins from getting on the board. A very well executed 8-5-4-2 play on the second out of the inning.
Following another walk of Eduardo Escobar, Johnson’s eventful night came to an end with the chance to get the win, as he was replaced in favor of Heath Hembree.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 84 (53 strikes), the former Florida Gator relied on his four-seam fastball 43% of the time while on the mound on Thursday and topped out at 91 MPH with it on his 67th pitch of the contest.
In terms of innings pitched, 5.2, this is the deepest Johnson has pitched into an outing since he tossed six one-run innings in his first start of the season back on April 2nd against the Miami Marlins.
Lowering his ERA to 3.45 and WHIP to 1.33, the left-hander came away with a no-decision on Thursday, and as I had already mentioned, will return to the bullpen within the next few days.
In relief of Johnson, Heath Hembree got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen in the sixth and retired the lone batter he faced in the inning.
Coming back out for a second frame of work with a one run lead to protect, the South Carolina native served up two straight hits to start out the seventh.
After a GDIP off the bat of Ehire Adrianza tied the game at one run a piece, Hembree gave up his third hit of the inning against the last batter he saw.
Matt Barnes came in to clean the mess that Hembree had made with two outs, ended the inning by striking out Joe Mauer, but surrendered the go-ahead run on a two out Mitch Garver RBI double in the eighth. Charged with his third loss of the season, last night marked the first time since July 12th in which Barnes had given up an earned run.
From that point on, Ryan Brasier continued his run of quality relief work with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to keep his team within striking distance, which nearly worked out for them.
On the other side of things, Twins starter Kyle Gibson was DEALING last night. He needed 120 pitches to get through eight innings, but he was excellent.
The only run the Red Sox could muster in this one came in the second, when, with one out and Blake Swihart at third and Jackie Bradley at first, Mookie Betts grounded out to short, which allowed Swihart to easily score from third.
However, on the throw from shortstop to first base, Bradley tried to advance all the way from first to third on a pretty agressive move and ultimately paid the price for it, as he was tagged out to end the inning thanks to a fine throw from Joe Mauer. Betts did come away with an RBI, but that was all the scoring the team could come up with.
I mean, they certainly had their plethora of opportunities, like loading the bases on multiple occasions in the first and ninth innings, but had nothing to show for it.
Speaking of the ninth inning, I need to know why Mitch Moreland was not pinch-hitting for Jackie Bradley Jr. in that spot.
Bases loaded, one run game, two outs, Twins closer Fernando Rodney on the mound, a pitcher Moreland has hit at a .600 clip over his career, and he is nowhere to be found.
Alex Cora said after the game that there was no reason in particular why Moreland did not come on to hit for Bradley. It was just a matter of the team being in favor of the way the lineup was matched up against Rodney.
And ultimately, that decision did not pan out. As the Red Sox center fielder, fresh off making two fantastic plays with his glove, fanned for second time to wrap this frustrating 2-1 loss up.
Some notes from this one:
In 14 at bats this month, Blake Swihart is slashing .417/.500/.625 with one home run and two RBI to go along with a current eight game hitting streak as well.
Since joining the big league club on July 28th, Ryan Brasier owns an ERA of 0.00 in eight innings pitched. With the recent struggles from the bullpen, perhaps it’s time to give Brasier some more high leverage opportunities.
This is just my opinion, but the Red Sox should probably upgrade their bullpen.
Dropping two consecutive games for the first time since June 19-20 against these Twins, the Red Sox will look to even things back up tomorrow to kick off what should be a fun weekend for the team. Chris Sale gets the ball for the Friday start and he will be matched up against veteran righty Lance Lynn for Minnesota.
In his only other start against the Twins this season, Sale struck out 11 batters in seven innings pitched back on that June 19th game at Target Field.
First pitch of the second game of the series is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET Friday.