BOSTON -- The first inning often has been an issue for the Red Sox's starting rotation this season. The opening two games of a four-game series vs. the Yankees weren't an exception.
Red Sox starters combined to allow 64 runs (58 earned) in the first inning in the team's first 84 games this year, resulting in a 6.21 ERA. Entering Saturday's, action the American League average was a 4.61 ERA.
"That's not good," said pitching coach Bob McClure. "It happens some times."
Boston hasn't shown signs of stopping the trend in its final series before the All-Star break.
Josh Beckett allowed five runs in the first frame on Friday in the series opener against New York. In the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Franklin Morales surrendered four. The Sox lost both games.
"It's certainly not on purpose or by design," McClure said.
Entering Saturday's nightcap, Red Sox starters had allowed at least one run in the first inning in 10 of the last 12 games at Fenway Park dating back to June 10. Boston went 6-4 in those 10 contests, thanks in large part to a high-powered offense.
So what's the solution?
"If there was a solution, it would be solved," said manager Bobby Valentine. "Bob McClure is down there warming them up and bringing them in, and they have a game plan, and it just seems like a lot of guys have struggled in the first inning."
Is preparation the root of the first-inning issues?
"That's not the problem," McClure said. "The problem is missed location. It's not the preparation, it's maybe being too careful. I can't pinpoint it right now. Maybe trying too hard. Who knows? It happens sometimes."
In the last two games, Beckett and Morales failed to establish their secondary pitches in the first inning, and that was part of the problem.
"Sometimes you have to pitch backwards," McClure said. "That's one way to kind of solve it, be a little more aggressive in the zone, getting ahead in the count."
This isn't the first time Valentine has dealt with starters who continually struggle in the first inning, though.
"I had Nolan Ryan for years, and his first inning was always a problem," said Valentine, referring to the four seasons he managed the Hall of Famer with the Rangers from 1989-92. "I don't know if I ever corrected it or figured out a solution for it. Sometimes it just happens, I don't know. I'd rather it not."
Sweeney activated from DL, Kalish sent down
BOSTON -- The Red Sox swapped a pair of outfielders prior to Saturday night's game vs. the Yankees, activating Ryan Sweeney from the 15-day disabled list and optioning Ryan Kalish to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Sweeney started in center field and hit seventh in manager Bobby Valentine's lineup. He had been out since June 17 with left big toe inflammation, missing 18 games.
"Just one of those things where you need a little time off," Sweeney said Saturday morning.
He played in two Minor League rehab games with Double-A Portland, going 1-for-7. In 52 games before the injury, Sweeney hit .292 with 13 RBIs.
Kalish struggled at the plate in 17 games since he was recalled from Pawtucket when Sweeney went on the DL, hitting .217 with five RBIs. Kalish did well to make it back to the Majors, though, after battling numerous injuries in the Minors last season.
He played in 53 games for the Red Sox in 2010, but opened the 2011 season in Pawtucket due to a logjam in Boston's outfield. Kalish separated his left (throwing) shoulder in a collision in April of last year before undergoing surgeries on his shoulder and neck.
Crawford's tweaked groin will delay return
BOSTON -- Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford's rehab clock will be reset because of his left groin, and he will not be in the Major League lineup to start the second half of the season.
A team spokesperson said Saturday morning that Crawford had suffered a mild left groin strain. Manager Bobby Valentine later characterized the decision to stop Crawford's current rehab stint as preventative.
"He hit a triple [on Thursday] and when he turned second, he just felt a little twinge there," Valentine said. "Taking a couple days off from hitting and playing. He's going to go right back in and start hitting soon in a game. It's not a strain or anything. It's ice prevention. Or it's a little preventative thing to make sure it doesn't get worse."
Position players have 20 days to rehab in the Minor Leagues. Crawford's first rehab game came June 23 in the Gulf Coast League, which made Saturday the 15th day of his current stint. The groin situation gives the Sox and Crawford the benefit or more rehab time.
Crawford cannot go back into rehab games until five days have passed.
Perhaps more concerning for the Red Sox is that Crawford's left elbow still causes discomfort, but not while hitting, he said Friday. A UCL sprain in that elbow has kept him out much of the season.
"It's not 100 percent healthy, but I'm able to hit," Crawford said Friday, "so I said pretty much whenever I'm able to start hitting the ball and swinging the bat, then I'll play."
Valentine said the elbow is a situation that continues to require monitoring.
"A red flag?" Valentine said when asked if that's what Crawford's characterization of his elbow raised. "You mean a red flag that there's still something in his elbow? I think we have to manage that situation as he plays. And maybe it's just a caution flag."
Buchholz to make rehab start Sunday for Pawtucket
BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz will make a Minor League rehab start with Triple-A Pawtucket on Sunday, and he could return to the Red Sox in the first series following the All-Star break.
The right-hander last pitched for the Red Sox on June 19 before being sidelined with a stomach illness that was diagnosed as esophagatis, which required a short stint in the hospital and a trip to the disabled list.
"Buchholz is pitching tomorrow, maybe a 40-pitch stint just to get his spikes on the rubber and not go 24 days in between being on the hill," said manager Bobby Valentine.
Buchholz is on track to return to Boston's rotation during a three-game series on the road vs. the Rays that begins on Friday.
"If that goes well tomorrow, then he'll be able to pitch in the first series coming out," Valentine said.
In his last five starts before going on the DL on June 24, Buchholz was 4-0 with a 2.43 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 37 innings. This season he's 8-2 with a 5.53 ERA in 14 outings.
In other injury news, Jacoby Ellsbury (right shoulder) was scheduled to play with Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday. Ryan Sweeney (left big toe) was not scheduled to play Saturday. Righty Chris Carpenter (right elbow surgery) was set to pitch for Class A Greenville on Sunday.
Middlebrooks out of starting lineup for Game 1
BOSTON -- As much as Will Middlebrooks would like to play in this weekend's series vs. the Yankees, the Red Sox are being cautious with the rookie's tweaked hamstring.
Middlebrooks was out of the lineup for the fifth consecutive game on Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader. Could the third baseman play in the nightcap?
"Probably not, but I don't know," said manager Bobby Valentine before Game 1. "He was in the office this morning with the training staff, and he's close."
The third baseman did some light running and fielded ground balls at Fenway Park on Saturday morning. He's progressing, but the Sox aren't rushing to get him back in the lineup.
"He hit for almost two innings [during Friday's game], in the cage, and felt nothing," Valentine said. "With those pulled muscles, I always like to give it a day after if someone thinks they feel fine."
Middlebrooks has not played since leaving last Sunday's game vs. the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth inning. Now, it appears likely that he will avoid a trip to the disabled list. With the All-Star break fast approaching, Middlebrooks will have extra time next week to recover without missing any games.
"Some of the madness in not [placing him on the DL] was to have him ready coming out of the break and not miss those five games on the other side of the break," Valentine said. "But if he's perfect today, he can pinch-hit today."
Mauro Gomez started at third base for the third straight game on Saturday in place of Middlebrooks. Entering Saturday, Boston was 0-4 this week without Middlebrooks.
Mortensen is Boston's 26th man for doubleheader
BOSTON -- The Red Sox's first 26th man under new rules that allow teams to have an extra player for a doubleheader is right-hander Clay Mortensen. The Sox and Yankees played a twin bill Saturday, Boston's first doubleheader since also playing the Yankees on Sept. 25 of last season.
Mortensen was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on July 4, so he will have to return to the Minors after Saturday because optioned players can't be recalled to the Majors for 10 days -- except in the case of injury or, like Saturday, a doubleheader.
The Red Sox could've made other additions besides Mortensen but felt he was the best fit to help them for the day.
"Everything," manager Bobby Valentine said of what went into the decision. "There's a million ... There are conversations into the morning that, we're just guessing at what we might need, and what we might need the most. So we decided to go with Mortensen, who's a pretty durable pitcher, can pitch against both sides of the plate, and see if we can't have enough pitching to get through a doubleheader."
Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.