Cora defends plan amid Red Sox pitching woes

Through four games of the season, Boston Red Sox pitchers are enduring one of the worst starts for a staff in recent memory, but manager Alex Cora has no regrets about lightening his staff's load during spring training.

"I didn't rethink about it last year, you saw what happened. It was the same plan," Cora said after Sunday's 10-8 road loss to the Seattle Mariners, Boston's third defeat in four games to open the season. "Whoever's doubting us [after] what we did last year. I mean this year? Check what happened last year."

Just five months after an extended postseason run ended with a World Series title, the Red Sox have already allowed 34 runs. That would have been tied for the most of any team in the first four games over the past 10 years, though this season the Arizona Diamondbacks have been even worse, allowing 42 runs through four games.

Red Sox starters have a 13.20 ERA, the worst for any starting staff through four games in the past 10 seasons. The Red Sox have also given up 11 home runs so far this season, tied with Boston's 2011 team for the most at this point in the year in the franchise's past 100 seasons. Last year, Red Sox pitchers did not allow their 10th homer of the season until April 19, in their 18th game of the year.

For the second consecutive spring training, Cora managed his pitchers' outings in an effort to keep them fresher toward the end of the season. And since the move paid off in the World Series in 2018, he said he sees no reason to do anything differently in 2019.

"It's easy to second-guess now what we did. Nobody second-guessed us last year. It's a program, you have to be disciplined," Cora said. "So that's the way I see it. If people think [the pitchers] didn't start too many games, that they didn't have too many innings, they should get back to what we did last year in spring training. I mean, we played until Oct. 28, and the previous year, when I got here, everybody was talking how they ran out of bullets in October against the Houston Astros [in the 2017 American League Division Series]."

On Opening Day, the Mariners tagged Red Sox ace Chris Sale for seven runs, the most he has allowed in a game since August 2017, in just three innings en route to a 12-4 win.

Though the Red Sox were able to rally to win Friday's game, postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi was also ineffective, giving up three homers -- the same number he gave up in all of his 54 regular-season innings with Boston last year.

On Saturday, the Mariners also got to Eduardo Rodriguez for six runs in 4⅓ innings. And in Sunday's defeat, Boston starter Rick Porcello couldn't get out of the third inning after giving up nine runs, though only four of them were earned.

In all of 2018, Red Sox starters had only 12 games in which they gave up at least five earned runs in less than five completed innings.

Cora, despite his insistence that his long-term plan is the right move, said he still expects his starters to perform better than they did in Seattle.

"We expect them to throw the ball regardless. We did the same last year and Chris went [six innings] in Tampa, five in Miami. I don't know why people now all of a sudden are, 'It's a bad program.' It worked last year. Everybody was cool when the starters were pitching in October and coming out of the bullpen and being rovers. It's easy to second-guess now because we didn't pitch well here."

Cora was more satisfied with Boston's bullpen, which allowed just six runs in 18 innings in Seattle, and only one run in the past three games.

"The only positive out of the whole weekend is the bullpen," Cora said. "They did an outstanding job."