Red Sox’ Michael Wacha near-flawless in 8-1 win over Twins
The Red Sox hammered Michael Wacha in his final postseason appearance with the Rays last October, signed him to a $7 million deal in the off-season, and are now watching him flourish.
Making his first start for the Sox at Fenway Park on Easter Sunday against the Twins, Wacha mowed down the opposition over five scoreless innings, holding the Twins to just one hit while the Sox completed an impressive 8-1 victory.
Despite averaging just 91 mph on his fastball, down from 94 mph a year ago, Wacha used a heavy dose of changeups to keep the Twins off-balance. He cruised through the first three innings on just 37 pitches. He had to work for a 15-pitch strikeout of former Astros star Carlos Correa in the fourth, but was able to complete five innings on just 79 pitches before manager Alex Cora pulled the plug.
It was a masterful performance from a pitcher who has been one of the worst in baseball in recent years. From 2019 through 2021, Wacha’s 5.11 ERA ranked 84th out of 92 pitchers with 250 innings in that span.
He signed in Boston on a one-year deal worth $7 million as Chaim Bloom and Co. attempted to add pitching depth on a budget, never spending more than $10 million (James Paxton) on any one pitcher. Wacha earned the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation and has looked like a hidden gem thus far, despite missing some velocity on his heater.
He threw more changeups than four-seam fastballs on Sunday, using 24 changeups and 22 four-seamers, generating two whiffs on each. He was aggressive in the strike zone and let his defense do the rest.
Rafael Devers had an outstanding day in the field, where he turned a double play at shortstop in the fourth inning, then sprinted into center field to make an over-the-shoulder catch to rob Trevor Lamach of a single in the fifth.
Lefty Matt Strahm took over for Wacha in a 0-0 game in the sixth and continued to look like Cora’s secret weapon. The lefty pitched a shutdown sixth, though a single to Max Kepler cost him an earned run when Ryan Brasier entered and let Kepler score on a sacrifice fly by Lamach in the seventh. Right-handers are 0-for-10 against Strahm this season.
The Sox scored their first two runs on a pair of sacrifice flies in the bottom of the sixth. Devers started the frame with a softly hit liner to first base, but Miguel Sano couldn’t handle it and Devers reached on the error.
Xander Bogaerts, who has busted out of his mini-slump in a big way, hammered the ball all afternoon on Sunday, including a double off the Green Monster to push Devers to third base. Back-to-back sac flies by J.D. Martinez and Alex Verdugo cashed in Devers and Bogaerts.
They added six more in the eighth. Bogaerts hit an infield single to score Kiké Hernandez from third, J.D. Martinez punched an RBI double off the wall to score another, Trevor Story cashed in two on a single up the middle, Jackie Bradley Jr. scored one with a line drive to right field and Kevin Plawecki pushed one across with another sac fly.
Bradley was on base three times. He’s been on base multiple times in three of the last four games, despite accomplishing the feat just 25 times during the entirety of the 2021 season.
The Sox’ bullpen was a big question mark coming into the season, but has looked just fine so far. Behind Strahm and Brasier, Jake Diekman handled a flawless eighth inning and Austin Davis pitched a scoreless ninth.
The Sox return to Fenway for the series finale against the Twins in their annual 11 a.m. game on Marathon Monday.