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April 19. 2014 8:04PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Defense has let Sox down so far

BOSTON -- After the Red Sox' starting pitcher surrendered six runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings Friday night, second baseman Dustin Pedroia offered his assessment of John Lackey's outing.

"I thought," Pedroia said, "he was great."

On the surface it seemed a rather generous take on a night when the right-hander needed 100 pitches to get 16 outs, and only once retired the Orioles in order - but the deeper Lackey's line was delved into, the more believable the opinion became. He had six strikeouts. He generated 13 missed swings. He generally kept the ball down. And mostly avoided the middle of the plate.

In fact, Lackey finished the game with a fielding independent pitching (FIP) score of 3.05. According to Fangraphs.com, a 2.90 by that measure is considered "excellent." A 3.25 is considered "great." Perhaps Pedroia was actually spot-on.

But unfortunately for Lackey and the rest of the staff, the results of their pitching can't ultimately be independent of the Red Sox' fielding. Rather, they're actually subject to it - and thus far this season that hasn't really been a good thing. "There was a lot of balls that got through," Pedroia said of Friday. "They found some holes, but his fastball was great. We didn't help him out there defensively." To that point, Lackey induced six ground balls over the course of his outing -- only one of which was turned into an out. Two were knocked down by Xander Bogaerts, but his initial positioning looking to be off, the rookie shortstop had so far to go that by the time he reached the balls he had no chance of converting either.

Another was gloved by a diving Brock Holt at third, but he was slow getting up so his throw was late. Yet another eluded sliding first baseman Mike Carp and rolled into right field. There was also a blooper that fell safely in shallow center.

It's too early to start making determinations about whether defense is a shortcoming of this Sox team. The sample size isn't big enough yet to say it's a permanent problem. But it certainly appeared to be a problem over their first 17 games.

Boston has remained among the middle of the pack as far as errors go, but entering the weekend its defense ranked among baseball's bottom third in range, in ultimate zone rating, and in defensive efficiency among other metrics. In each of those cases they were worse than the league average - suggesting they were costing the team runs.

There have also been the more subtle mishaps, like Daniel Nava giving the Sox no chance to nail a runner at the plate by missing a cutoff man Friday, and like Jackie Bradley Jr. playing a ball off the wall, then not appearing to be told which base to throw to once he turned.

Those are harder to measure - but they still matter, sometimes even as much as the Bogaerts throwing error that gave the White Sox a walkoff win last Tuesday, and so all these fundamentals must be fixed. Soon.

"They hit some balls that found some holes," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said of Friday. "Just one of those nights."

One of those nights that'll be trouble if they become too common for the Sox.

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The Red Sox will mark the anniversary of last year's Boston Marathon bombing with a ceremony prior to tonight's game, the tribute set to include a remembrance of the four people who died, first pitches from those who created the One Fund Boston, and a series of canvases bearing inscriptions of good will sent from all 50 states.

In Monday's annual morning game, the Sox will wear white jerseys that say "Boston" - instead of "Red Sox" - and will continue to do so on Marathon Mondays moving forward.

"The best thing I can tell you about what happened was the way everybody got together and the way everybody fought back," designated hitter David Ortiz said Friday, reflecting on the Red Sox' role in the city's recovery. "I think it was one of the most amazing and unbelievable experiences I've had."

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Through Friday the Red Sox had drawn 66 walks as a team, 20 of which (30.3 percent) were worked by rookies Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. Conversely, the club's two most experienced hitters - Ortiz and Pierzynski - had combined for seven walks, or 10.6 percent.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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