BOSTON -- Ryan Dempster has lasted five innings in each of his first two starts with the Red Sox and he's still looking for his first win.
But the 35-year-old has had success against American League opponents after posting a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts with the Rangers last year. After spending the entirety of his career in the National League, those struggles against AL opponents after a midseason trade may have scared some teams away this offseason.
Through two starts and 10 innings, Dempster has struck out 15 batters and allowed only eight hits. And while his pitch count was at 93 after five innings in Wednesday's 8-5 loss the Orioles, he likely could have kept going if not for a rain delay after the fifth inning.
"I will say Ryan Dempster's strikeout totals are a little more than expected," said manager John Farrell. "We were kind of joking about it today, maybe we trade off three strikeouts for another inning or two of work in that role, but he's there to get outs, and by virtue of the strikeout, we can't argue about that."
Often, when a pitcher is struggling to last deep into games, but still finding success with the strikeout, there's the question of whether pitching to contact could add length to a start. Farrell is wondering just that with Dempster, who is leading the AL with 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
"It's a very fine line," the manager said. "He's going to use the stuff that he has. It's not like he's going to come up with an above-average sinker to get a higher rate of ground balls. He's going to pitch with a four-seamer, he's going to pitch with a split and his slider. So we don't want him to try to reinvent himself for the sake of an additional inning.
"We do know that when we get through the month of April, and he has four or five starts under his belt, that pitch-count limit will climb to give him the opportunity to get deeper in games. You could make the argument last night that if it's not raining or if it's not delayed, he goes back out for the sixth inning. So over time, he'll get the opportunity to get deeper in games."
Much of Dempster's success this season has come from a devastating splitter. In Wednesday's game, he threw 13 of 18 for strikes -- five swinging -- and induced eight ground balls without allowing a hit.
Dempster's slider is what got him into some trouble. All three hits he allowed Wednesday were off the slider. He induced just two outs on 35 sliders -- 21 for strikes -- and hung around 84 mph. With this pitch going away from right-handers and in on left-handers, it's allowed lefties to have some more success against Dempster so far; lefties have hit .238, while righties have hit .176. It was a hanging slider to Nick Markakis Wednesday that resulted in a fourth-inning home run.
Not having full command of a slider in April doesn't seem to be much of a concern, since pitchers often say their breaking stuff tends to be the last thing to develop as the weather gets warmer.
Hanrahan likely out for series finale vs. O's
BOSTON -- As much as Red Sox closer Joel Harnahan was eager to get back on the mound to erase the bitter taste of his blown save one night earlier, the righty will likely be rested for Thursday night's game against the Orioles.
Hanrahan threw 32 pitches Wednesday, when he allowed five earned runs and blew a 5-3 lead.
Red Sox manager John Farrell spoke with Hanrahan on Thursday not just to discuss usage, but also to convey his confidence in the righty.
"We talked more about going forward and he's our closer," Farrell said. "After 32 stressful pitches last night, you know, regardless of the outcome of last night, we've got to consider recovery time and that type of thing. I think Joel is well aware of what took place last night."
The Red Sox have the luxury of a proven former closer in Andrew Bailey, who would likely be Farrell's choice Thursday if a save situation arose.
Boston's bullpen has been an overriding strength during the early point of the season, as Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller have all been dependable and sometimes dominant when called on.
But for the bullpen to reach its maximum potential, Hanrahan needs to settle into a groove.
Sometimes it's natural for a new acquisition to try too hard as he is introduced to a new team. Hanrahan mentioned trying to throw too hard, and Farrell saw the same thing.
"Any time you overthrow a little bit, you're going to sacrifice some location for additional velocity," Farrell said. "By no means would we ask Joel to try to throw with less velocity. Prioritizing location is really any pitcher's goal going in and recognizing that those ninth innings, there's a lot of adrenaline to harness. He's had a lot of success at doing that. Last night was unfortunately a game that got away from him."
Another adjustment Hanrahan must make is the switch from the National League Central to the more offensive-minded American League East.
"He's facing hitters he hasn't seen for quite a while," Farrell said. "And the reason is the way the lineups are constructed here. You don't have that pitcher or pinch-hitter who has been on the bench all night showing up late in the game. It's a little bit of a different animal, the lineups in the American League."
Victorino's consistency keeps him atop lineup
BOSTON -- Prior to the season, Red Sox manager John Farrell's plan was to have Shane Victorino bat second against lefties, with Daniel Nava slotting in against righties. It made sense, given Victorino has traditionally been better from the right side, while Nava has always been the opposite.
However, the quality of Victorino's at-bats from the left side of the plate, combined with Nava's production on both sides, has made Farrell rethink things.
Of late, Victorino has been batting second against righties and lefties, with Nava batting sixth regardless.
"I think once we started the season, [Victorino's] at-bats from the left side of the plate have been consistent -- they've been fairly equal to the right side," said Farrell. "What Daniel has done with providing protection behind Will [Middlebrooks] and really in the short run -- he's been almost a middle-of-the-order type of bat -- whether it's getting an inning started with a walk or an extra-base hit, it gives us the ability to lengthen out the lineup a little bit and protection in that middle of the order."
Victorino entered Thursday's finale against the Orioles with better numbers from the left side (.368 average, .381 on-base percentage) than the right (.231, .333).
As for Nava, he entered this season with seven homers in 428 at-bats. This season, he has three homers in 15 at-bats.
"I think more than anything, he continues to mature as a hitter," Farrell said. "He's picking out pitches that he's capable of driving with more frequency, and time will tell what that production will look like over a longer span. You can't deny the work that the guy puts in, whether it's on defense or at the plate. He's doing a heck of a job."
Ian Browne and Jason Mastrodonato are reporters for MLB.com. Read Browne's blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. Follow Mastrodonato on Twitter @jmastrodonato This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.