Red Sox seeking spark from starters

Red Sox seek spark from starters

ANAHEIM -- A lights-out bullpen and timely hitting are the two things that have fueled the Red Sox to a solid start. Perhaps Thursday is the day the starting pitching starts to get on a roll.

Entering the season, it was viewed as a big strength. But for a combination of reasons, Boston starting pitchers have a combined ERA of 5.91 entering Thursday, which is last in the American League.

"I think everybody thought coming in that our starting pitching was going to be one of our strong points," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "But given what our record is at right now with the way the starting pitching has gone, it's probably a good thing. They've struggled and they're not going to struggle all year. We're still eight games above .500. I guess that's the silver lining."

Brad Penny, who takes the mound in the rubber match of this three-game series against the Angels, is 3-1, but he's still looking for consistency.

The right-hander, coming off arm woes last season, is trying to get back to the form he was at for the Dodgers in 2006-07.

He is adapting to the American League.

"I think it's definitely a better-hitting league, but if you make pitches ... when I've gotten beat, I made a lot of mistakes," said Penny. "I left it up in the zone or missed my spots with my breaking stuff."

The key to success in the AL?

"Avoiding walks," said Penny. "Staying out of the big inning. People are also going to try to bunt on you and move runners over. They're going to steal on you like Tampa Bay. The Angels have always been consistent with that, bunting and moving guys over."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Brad Penny (3-1, 6.90 ERA)
After registering four quality starts in six outings to begin his Red Sox career, Penny will get the nod in Thursday's series finale after logging a season-high 6 1/3 innings in his last start against Tampa Bay. The burly right-hander limited the defending American League champion Rays to three runs in each of his previous two outings, amassing 10 strikeouts and issuing just four walks.

LAA: RHP Ervin Santana (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Santana makes his season debut, a collateral ligament sprain in his right elbow that surfaced during Spring Training having kept him sidelined. He made two Minor League rehab starts, most recently on Saturday for Triple-A Salt Lake, and built his pitch count to 80, a level where the club is comfortable. Santana emerged as an All-Star in 2008 en route to a 16-7 record and 3.49 ERA in 32 starts. With a mid-90s fastball, complemented by quality off-speed stuff, he struck out 214 hitters (second in the AL) while walking only 47 in 219 innings as the team's workhorse. Santana had rebounded from a dismal 2007 when he was 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA. For his career he's 51-37 with a 4.42 ERA in 116 appearances, all but two as a starter.

Tidbits
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who was out of the lineup the past two games with a strained right groin, will be back in there for the finale. ... The Red Sox are 2-3 against the Angels this season. ... Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has a nine-game hitting streak. ... Bay is third in the American League in home runs and second in RBIs.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WEEI 850, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 2-3, 6.31) at Mariners (Chris Jakubauskas, 1-4, 7.67), 10:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 3-2, 6.42) at Mariners (Erik Bedard, 2-1, 2.53), 10:10 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Justin Masterson, 2-2, 4.89) at Mariners (Jason Vargas, 1-0, 1.04), 4:10 p.m. ET

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.