BOSTON – Another poor start of a game for a Red Sox starter.

Jon Lester gave up two runs, on three hits and a walk, in the first inning Sunday night.

And that was the best of the Boston staff this weekend, for results in the first inning.

Josh Beckett allowed five runs on Friday night, Franklin Morales four in Saturday’s day game, and Felix Doubront three (two earned) on Saturday night.

And this is the pitching staff that is going to propel the Boston Red Sox in a second-half surge toward the playoffs?

Well, the short answer is yes.

What choice does Boston have but to believe its pitching will get better?

“You always got to be optimistic,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said before Sunday night’s game with the Yankees. He knows starting pitching is the key.

“We need those guys to shut (teams) down,” Saltalamacchia said. “They’re the spark. They get things started. They get us going. Then we feed off them.”

Asked about the pitchers’ struggles in the first inning, Saltalamacchia passed. “I’m not going to talk about that. It’s over,” he said.

Well, it’s not. But don’t blame Salty. He’s a catcher, ever loyal to his pitchers.

“These pitchers are doing a great job,” he said. “Started off the season rough. They really brushed a lot of stuff off and showed they are the real deal.”

Hmmm. Salty’s optimism is bordering on propaganda. The pitching was rough in April and most of May. Saying it is much better now – i.e. the real deal – is questionable.

Beckett did have a 3.42 ERA in June, but in only three starts because he was on the disabled list. Then he had the clunker Friday.

Lester’s June ERA was 4.01. His first July start was solid, but then came Sunday, when he did not get out of the fifth inning.

Felix Doubront had an up-and-down June (5.83) but is looking better in July. He recovered nicely Saturday night for the win.

Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales turned in superb starts recently, although Morales’ last effort was horrible.

Clay Buchholz may have shown the most improvement, featuring a 2.40 ERA in four June starts. But then he got sick, hit the disabled list and is just now coming back — having made a rehab start in Pawtucket on Sunday. He will re-join the rotation Saturday.

“I got my break,” Buchholz said of the time off. “My body feels strong and healthy.”

If Boston is going to make a move in the second half of the season, it is going to have to string together wins in bunches. To do that, the Red Sox need to rely on their version of the Big Three — Lester, Beckett and Buchholz.

“That’s understood,” Buchholz said. “We know if we go out and do our job, then (others) can feed off us.

“It all intertwines together. When our offense gets going and our pitching gets going, we’re one of the best teams in baseball.

“We just got to find that niche and, instead of doing it for four or five games at a time, do it for 15 games at a time, and win 13 out of 15, and I think that will put us where we need to be.”

To get there, Boston has to do better than 12th. That’s where Boston ranks among 14 American League teams in starting pitching ERA (4.78 before Sunday night’s games).

The Red Sox can blame injuries all they want for their current state. And a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in the lineup might be good for a few more wins. But if Boston really wants to give its fan base a reason for optimism, the formula is simple:

Pitch better.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases