The Boston Red Sox likely couldn't have pictured the season starting any better than it has, particularly after disastrous starting pitching derailed them last year.
With a shot at an opening-series sweep of the New York Yankees in the Bronx on Thursday night, they'll look to a new addition to their staff in hopes of another strong outing.
Boston seeks its first 3-0 start since beginning 5-0 in 1999, already with road wins against the Yankees in the first two games of the season for the first time since 1935.
Red Sox starters combined to go 48-72 last year with a 5.19 ERA that ranked 27th in baseball - a huge reason for the team's 69-93 record and last place finish in the AL East. But Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have combined for a 2.25 ERA over 12 innings in 8-2 and 7-4 victories over the Yankees on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
Still, Lester and Buchholz were the only two to throw more than 180 innings last year, so the club is anxious to see how new addition Ryan Dempster performs in his start Thursday.
Dempster, who signed a two-year deal with Boston in the offseason, struggled in 12 AL starts last year after being acquired by Texas. He went 7-3 despite a 5.09 ERA after recording a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts earlier in the season for the Cubs.
The Red Sox hope Dempster can be the same innings-eater he's proven to be over the course of his career, throwing 200 or more innings seven times in 15 seasons.
"I work extremely hard during the offseason and season to keep myself as healthy as possible so I can take on that workload," Dempster told the team's official website. "It's something I pride myself on."
With a roster already depleted by injuries, the Yankees caught another bad break in Wednesday's loss. Starter Hiroki Kuroda recorded just four outs before a Shane Victorino line drive bruised his middle finger, eventually forcing Kuroda out of the game. Kuroda, who tied Phil Hughes for the team lead in wins last year with 16, underwent X-rays and a CT scan that came back negative, though he was set to see a doctor Thursday.
New York certainly hopes it'll be able to keep him away from a lengthy and very expensive disabled list that already includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Hughes.
They'll look to 40-year-old Andy Pettitte to help them get on track as he takes the mound Thursday to begin his 15th season with the club. He's coming off a year in which he was limited to 12 starts due to a broken leg keeping him out for three months, though he went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts.
The Yankees didn't hold a lead at any point in their first two games for the first time since 1998 and are trying to avoid their second straight 0-3 start, though it didn't keep them from finishing with the AL's best record at 95-67.
"It's not unusual to lose two games in a row," manager Joe Girardi said. "It becomes somewhat glaring when it's the first two. We didn't get off to a good start last year and that worked out OK."
Thursday marks Pettitte's first start against Boston since Oct. 2, 2010. In his five most recent outings opposite Boston, he went 2-1 despite a 6.29 ERA.
Dempster has struggled in five career starts versus the Yankees, posting an 0-4 record with a 7.62 ERA.
The Associated Press News Service
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