By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The starting pitching for the Boston Red Sox has been exceptional thus far in the young season. The bullpen’s work in the eighth inning has been the exact opposite.

It’s an issue that began on the first day of the season, and it once again reared its ugly head Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park in the Red Sox’ home opener.

David Price pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and three walks while striking out five. But with his offense unable to generate anything against the the trio of Yonny Chirinos, Chaz Roe and Sergio Romo, Price earned a no-decision for his work on the mound.

Manager Alex Cora tabbed Carson Smith to get through the eighth inning, and it didn’t take long for the scoreless tie to be broken. Carson Smith walked Mallex Smith to lead off the frame, and the right-hander then served up a pitch to Matt Duffy that caught much too much of the plate. Duffy sent the ball over the wall in center field, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead.

The Boston offense was able to scrape together a couple of runs in the bottom of the ninth in order to force extra innings, and Boston ultimately was able to win in 12 innings. But Smith’s performance continued a trend that has not been good at all for the Red Sox pitching staff. As a team in the eighth inning, the Red Sox have now allowed 10 runs in seven innings — which comes out to a 12.86 ERA. Suffice it to say, that’s an issue.

And considering the Red Sox’ team ERA in innings one through six is now 0.86 while the team ERA in the ninth inning is 1.50, the eighth inning is an issue that could certainly cost the team some wins going forward. The duo of Joe Kelly and Smith combined to allow six runs — all earned — in an eighth-inning collapse on opening day, and the home run allowed by Smith certainly spoiled the mood inside Fenway for the home opener a week later. They earned the win, but it required quite a bit of extra effort.

Certainly, the offense has not exactly been lighting the world on fire. The Sox have now scored 13 runs in five games against Tampa, while the Yankees managed to plate 18 runs in just two games against the Rays. The bats will need to get rolling.

But with the rotation being the best in baseball, and with closer Craig Kimbrel being effective, it’s the bridge between those two areas of strength that’s going to require some attention.


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