BOSTON — A few hours before Saturday’s game, Dustin Pedroia stepped onto the field at Fenway Park and took batting practice with his teammates for the first time in two weeks.
Talk about a sight for the sorest Boston Red Sox eyes.
Pedroia hasn’t played since Aug. 8 because of swelling and inflammation in his surgically repaired left knee. David Price, meanwhile, hasn’t pitched since July 24 thanks to a recurrence of stiffness in his balky left elbow. In case you forgot, that’s the Red Sox’s de facto captain and second-best starter, respectively, both on the disabled list without a timetable for their return and no guarantee they will be back this season.
But the Sox had been winning without them. Through Wednesday night, when they beat Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber, they had won 16 of 20 games and seized a 4.5-game lead in the American League East in large measure because of the energy created by the promotion of top prospect Rafael Devers and the acquisition of versatile infielder Eduardo Nunez in a trade with the San Francisco Giants. With new blood coursing through the lineup, the Sox looked primed to run away with the division and surge into the playoffs.
Then came the past three days. On Thursday, with ace Chris Sale on the mound, they lost 13-6 to the Indians. They returned home Friday night for a 16-3 mauling by the Baltimore Orioles, their most lopsided loss of the season. And on Saturday, they mustered four hits against Orioles starter Kevin Gausman and lost 7-0, the 10th time they have been shut out this season.
The games have been as ugly as the math. Since they put up four runs in the ninth inning Wednesday night, the Sox have been outscored 36-9 over the past 27 innings.
Maybe it’s just a speed bump along the way to defending the AL East crown. Or maybe it’s a sign of trouble on the horizon. Regardless, Devers and Nunez were bound to get cold at some point. Sure enough, Devers is 2-for-27 with eight strikeouts in the past seven games, while Nunez is 6-for-28 with three extra-base hits.
So, perhaps the best thing that could be said for the past three days is that the cavalry might be on its way. While the Red Sox played four games in Cleveland, Pedroia and Price stayed behind with head athletic trainer Brad Pearson, and by all accounts they had a positive week. It culminated Saturday with Pedroia going through defensive drills before his round of batting practice and with Price long-tossing off flat ground from 120 feet.
If the Red Sox are pinpointing a return date for either player, they aren’t discussing it publicly. It’s probably wise not to rush them or offer false hope that they will be back.
But it’s clear that the Sox need them, along with center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and reliever Matt Barnes, both of whom joined Pedroia and Price on the disabled list this week. And perhaps their returns in September could provide the same jolt that Devers’ and Nunez’s arrivals did in August.
“There’s positive happenings, I think, on the injury front,” manager John Farrell said. “But with all due respect, we’re not looking to wait for the next flow [of players] in here to inject some energy.”
In other words, the Red Sox can’t simply expect Pedroia and Price to return at their pre-injury levels. Even if Pedroia is able to return to the lineup, his knee issues might not permit him to stay there, at least not every day. And although Price pitched relatively well after missing the season’s first two months with what he later described as a “torn elbow,” he might run out of time in the season to build back his arm strength for a return to the rotation.
But there’s also every chance that Pedroia and Price can still make positive contributions, enough that it will pull the Red Sox out of their late-August funk and propel them into the stretch run.
After that 36-9 margin over the past three days, they need all the help they can get.
“I guess the playoffs are right around the corner,” Mookie Betts said. “But you’ve got to take it one game at a time. You have to get there first.”
Said Farrell: “We have played a very good brand of baseball for a period of time. We’re in a patch right now, the last three days, where it’s the other side of it. The way to get out of it is for the guy on the mound to start the ballgame to lead us through it.”
Another way is to hope the cavalry can ride back into town and save the day.