Bobby Dalbec reacts after hitting a foul ball during Boston’s 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Red Sox have scored just 16 runs in their previous seven games. Scott Audette/Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox arrived in Toronto hoping their offense meets up with them north of the border.

Boston bats have been quiet through the first two weeks of the season, and the Red Sox hit Canada having scored just 16 runs in the previous seven games. They had a team-wide batting average of .217 and just two home runs during that stretch.

This offense was supposed to be good enough to overcome any early pitching issues. Instead it’s the pitching that has been the strength of this team so far.

Rich Hill did his part on Sunday, going four shutout innings in his first start back since his time on the bereavement list following the death of his father. He did it while never throwing a pitch harder than 87.6 mph.

It was a reminder that there are many ways to get major league hitters out. On the other side, flame-throwing Shane McClanahan was throwing 88 mph change-ups that baffled Sox hitters. His fastball was approaching 100 miles an hour, but the Red Sox jumped on it early and after two pitches had two hits and a 1-0 lead.

That was quite a turnaround from the night before when the Red Sox were no-hit through nine innings before finally breaking through for a pair of hits and two runs in the 10th inning of a bizarre 3-2 extra-inning loss. That 10th inning had more drama than you’ll see in most games, with the Sox committing an error that kept the inning going and set up the first walk-off homer of Kevin Kiermaier’s career.

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It is the beauty of baseball. Even in a loss, there’s a good chance you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.

What we didn’t see Sunday was any more offense from Boston. McClanahan adjusted after recording just one out in the first five batters he faced. He went to his seldom-used change-up and baffled the Red Sox over seven total innings. The Sox picked up just two more hits after that first inning.

The quiet bats have forced the Red Sox to rely heavily on their pitching staff, which is without Tanner Houck in Canada. Houck, who is unvaccinated, was not able to play per Canadian pandemic protocols. So he stayed behind after pitching in relief on Sunday.

With Houck out, Garrett Whitlock made his first major league start on Friday and was brilliant over four one-hit, scoreless innings. It was his first start at any level since he faced the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field as a member of the Yankees’ organization in 2019. He’ll no doubt start again in Toronto and might make a case to stay in the rotation. For now, the 25-year old is building a reputation as the team’s most important pitcher.

“Any situation you put him in, he is who he is,” said Will Venable who is acting Red Sox manager while Alex Cora is out after testing positive for COVID-19. “He’s calm and collected.”

The calm demeanor of Whitlock is especially impressive considering he’s just 25 and was picked up off the proverbial Rule 5 scrap heap. He’s been dominant since joining the Red Sox last season. He has a great future, and an attitude that makes him one of the most likable young players in the game.

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“They make those decisions,” Whitlock said over the weekend. “They get paid for those decisions. That’s not my job to do. I’ll go out there and throw until they come and take the ball away from me.”

Whitlock can do it all. He just can’t hit. He’s not expected to, but the Red Sox lineup is. That’s been the most surprising thing about the start of this Red Sox season. Offense is down around the game and some players are already wondering if the baseballs have been deadened by Major League Baseball once again.

Even with that backdrop, Boston’s lack of offense stands out. They entered the Toronto series swinging at more pitches – and more pitches outside the strike zone – than any team in baseball. They also had the third-worst contact rate of pitches inside the strike zone in the American League.

It’s a bad combination and was reminiscent of the start of last season. Kyle Schwarber was added at the trade deadline and his renowned plate discipline became contagious. Schwarber is now in Philadelphia, and the Red Sox are in a funk that all the pitching in the world can’t help.

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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