Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, second from left, takes the ball from pitcher Martín Pérez during the fourth inning of Friday night’s game against Seattle at Fenway Park. Pérez allowed a run in the first inning and another in the fourth. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

First impressions are meaningful. In baseball, the first inning often sets the tone for the game.

That’s why the Red Sox first-inning struggles have been so frustrating. Boston starting pitchers have posted a 7.44 ERA in the first inning this season, the second-highest mark in the American League.

“It would be good to get a shutdown inning and give our offense a chance to get a lead,” said Manager Alex Cora before Sunday’s game with the Mariners.

It didn’t happen. Eduardo Rodriguez gave up a leadoff double to Mitch Haniger, and was trailing 1-0 just two batters into the game.

Rodriguez was able to limit the damage to just one run, but it meant the Red Sox were forced to play from behind again. It’s a tough way to live.

Incredibly, Red Sox starters have only recorded a 1-2-3 first inning twice in 23 games played this season.


Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush, who spends his winters in Maine, knows his staff is struggling in the first inning. It was something he battled at times over the course of his nine-year career as a major league pitcher. His first-inning ERA of 6.81 was his highest as a starter.

Speaking from experience, Bush knows he needs to be careful in how he approaches the issue with his pitchers.

“If I make too big a deal out of it it become a bigger issue,” said Bush. “We have struggled in the first inning and put ourselves in the hole a little bit recently. So I just want to make sure that when they come out of the bullpen they are physically and mentally ready to go and they’re ready to attack with their best stuff from the first pitch of the game, and trust that it’s going to be there and really stick with their game plan from the get go.”

There are plenty of other issues facing Red Sox pitchers right now. The back end of the rotation has been a problem, with Garrett Richards (6.00 ERA, 1.75 WHIP) and Martín Pérez (5.71/1.67) struggling to give the Red Sox anything approaching a quality start this season. Walks were a particular concern against the Mariners over the weekend.

Yet the Sox lead the league in come-from-behind wins this season. They’ve been behind the eight ball early in most games, but the offense has been able to pick them up. Boston is in first place in the AL East with a surprising 14-9 record.

“We’ll take it,“ Cora said after Sunday’s game. “If you asked me before the season ‘Would you take this record going into (Tuesday’s game in) New York?’ absolutely, 100%. Everybody in this clubhouse is happy that we have this record, but at the same time everybody in this clubhouse knows we’ve got to play better baseball and we have to keep improving.”

The first inning is an obvious place to start. With a better first impression, the Sox could have a chance to stay in first a lot longer than anyone expected.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.

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