Red Sox hope Johnson goes deep against Padres

Field Level Media

August 25, 2019 at 7:38 am.

Before Saturday night’s second straight win over the Padres, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said right-hander Brian Johnson would “probably” start for Boston on Sunday afternoon at Petco Park “unless he is needed tonight.”

Another way of looking at filling the TBA void for Sunday’s Red Sox starting pitcher was this: If everyone else pitched Saturday night, Brian Johnson would have to start Sunday. Which turned out to closer to the truth.

The Red Sox used seven pitchers Saturday night — including six of the nine listed members of the bullpen — in their 5-4 victory over the Padres.

So it will be left-hander Brian Johnson (1-2, 6.58 ERA) facing Padres southpaw Joey Lucchesi (8-7, 4.20) Sunday afternoon as the Red Sox go for a sweep of the three-game series and a win that could move them closer to being a real playoff contender.

“I like the way we’re playing right now,” said Cora. “We’re doing some nice things offensively.”

He’s talking about things like scoring 16 runs in two games against the Padres, who appear to be spiraling back toward last place in the National League West. The Padres have lost four in a row and Saturday night fell 10 games below .500 for the first time this season.

Neither Johnson nor Lucchesi have ever faced their Sunday opponents before.

For the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Johnson, Sunday will be his 26th career start and 56th appearance.

The 28-year-old has made six starts in 11 appearances this season, giving up 21 runs (19 earned) on 41 hits and 12 walks with 21 strikeouts in 26 total innings for a 2.04 WHIP and a .353 opponents’ batting average. Johnson has been on the injured list twice this season, most recently from June 29-Aug. 3. He also spent time with Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland.

Lucchesi, 26, will be making his 25th start of the season Sunday, and for the second-year pitcher, the quest hasn’t changed much in the past two months.

“We need Joey to pitch deeper into games,” Padres manager Andy Green has said continually since before the All-Star break. “We need some of our starters to work regularly on four days’ rest and pitch deeper into games.”

Lucchesi has had the four days’ rest issue down since the All-Star break, although the Padres have continued to use days off as a way to slip all their starters an extra day off whenever possible.

But the 6-foot-5, 204-pound, fourth-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft has completed seven innings only three times this season and has pitched in the seventh only once in his last 10 starts.

That is not what Green is looking for.

“We want Joey to be mentally set to go seven, eight innings,” Green said.

Lucchesi did go six innings in his most recent start on Aug. 18, holding the Phillies to two runs on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings in Philadelphia. He did earn his first win since the All-Star break — ending a personal three-decision losing streak — while throwing a season-high 109 pitches.

One thing that teams seeing Lucchesi for the first time must deal with is his jerky — but repeatable — delivery. “It gives him an extra dose of deception,” explained Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley.

Lucchesi’s ERA has climbed from 3.94 to 4.20 since the All-Star break. He has given up seven homers in his last eight starts.