Nick Pivetta strikes out 10, but Red Sox fall to Mariners 1-0

SEATTLE – ”It’s fun to have Nicky P on the mound,” Alex Cora said before Nick Pivetta made his season debut on Friday night.

Indeed, Pivetta was nearly untouchable in his first start; over six innings, he held the Mariners to three hits, a solo home run, struck out 10, and didn’t issue a walk.

Unfortunately, the performance wasn’t enough to keep the Mariners from shutting the Sox out 1-0, for which he took the loss.

In spite of home-plate umpire David Rackley putting the squeeze on the bottom of the strike zone, Pivetta dominated. Armed with a four-pitch mix (sweeper, four-seam fastball, cutter, curveball), he held the Mariners to two hits through four frames. Even Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh, who homered off him twice in a July contest last year, had no answer for the Sox starter.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox lineup was without Seattle-killer Rafael Devers – a late scratch from the lineup due to left-shoulder soreness – and they had no answer to George Kirby. The Mariners starter looked unsteady in the top of the first, issuing a leadoff walk to Jarren Duran and a one-out walk to Masataka Yoshida. Duran quickly stole second, making him the first Red Sox player to swipe multiple bags within the first two games of the season since Xander Bogaerts in 2017, and only the third this century.

But when Boston stranded the pair, Kirby settled in, and the game became a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. Though the Sox drove the 26-year-old righty’s pitch count to 48 after three, his confidence built as he worked deeper into the game without incurring any damage. He set the visitors down 1-2-3 in the second, fourth, and fifth frames. Until the seventh, they only had Tyler O’Neill’s two-out single to their name.

Thanks to the pitch clock and the almost-complete lack of offense, the game was into the sixth inning after about 75 minutes and done after 2:24.

The blanking continued until the bottom of the sixth. After Pivetta struck out the leadoff batter, J.P. Crawford skied a cutter just inside the right-field foul pole for a solo home run. Pivetta quickly recovered to strike out the following two batters, taking his punch-out count into double digits.

“I think my curveball getting over for first-pitch strikes was really beneficial, and then I was able to use my sweeper later to induce a lot of weak contact,” he assessed.

Pivetta didn’t have a double-digit strikeout performance once in the first half last season, but one of his four such contests after the All-Star break was in Seattle. According to Stathead, he’s the fourth pitcher in franchise history to put up double-digit strikeouts without walking a batter within the team’s first six games of the season, joining Roger Clemens (1991), Dave Morehead (1965), and Dutch Leonard (1917). It was Pivetta’s sixth time starting a 1-0 Red Sox loss, tying Leonard, and Cy Young for the franchise record.

“Nick was outstanding,” his manager said. “Good stuff throughout the game.”

After three consecutive 1-2-3 innings, Ceddanne Rafaela finally chased Kirby out of the game with a two-out single in the seventh.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” Cora said. “He doesn’t walk people, he walks two in the first inning and we had a shot, we didn’t cash in, and after that he found his rhythm… He’s a tough customer.”

Seattle’s bullpen gave Boston chances to take the game. Pinch-hitting for Enmanuel Valdez, Pablo Reyes greeted Mariners reliever Gabe Speier with a single. Unfortunately, it was first-inning deja vu all over again, as Bobby Dalbec struck out to strand two. Ryne Stanek was all over the place when he took over in the top of the eighth, issuing a leadoff walk to Reese McGuire and giving up a two-out single to Masataka Yoshida before Mariners manager Scott Servais called for Andrés Muñoz, who promptly got Trevor Story to ground out to end the penultimate frame.

Josh Winckowski pitched the last two innings for Boston. He dominated, striking out four of his first five batters, but after beginning the bottom of the eighth with back-to-back Ks, he gave up a single to No. 9 hitter Luke Raley and loaded the bases with a pair of walks. A lineout to first maintained the 1-0 score, but it didn’t matter.

Through eight, the Sox were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, having stranded seven. The 1-0 deficit looked more mountain than molehill.

“We had our chances,” Cora acknowledged. “We moved the line enough, but we didn’t score.”

Muñoz returned to the mound for the top of the ninth, looking for his first four-out save since 2022. He was helped along by Rackley, who called Triston Casas out on strikes, all of which were outside the zone. “We didn’t agree with two pitches there,” Cora said diplomatically, but admitted, “We didn’t do much.”

The Red Sox struck out 1-2-3 to complete the shutout loss.

Postgame, Cora explained that Devers was “just sore.”

However, Devers then admitted that he began feeling some shoulder soreness late in spring training, and that it had been getting “worse and worse.”

Neither he nor Cora ruled out him playing on Saturday, though.

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