Sunday, July 10, 2011

In refreshing return to win column, Fox represses blemishes

Hey now, he’s an All-Star. Could he get his game on Sunday?

Well, a long-awaited winning effort highlighted with seven strikeouts was a good step in that direction. It should help Pawtucket Red Sox starting pitcher Matt Fox rinse out enough of the recent vinegar for him to go savor the honor of representing the International League this week.

He still has yet to cut down on the recent frequency of balls and the walks, but the game’s favorable upshot will push that matter back to the trunk until his next scheduled start versus Durham next Sunday.

Fox, the PawSox only ambassador to Wednesday night’s Triple-A Midsummer Classic in Salt Lake City, was not following through on his accolade leading up to the last game before the break.

But five days removed from the nadir of his season―namely a 13-3 drubbing in Rochester that saw him charged with 11 earned runs on 10 hits in merely 2.2 innings of work―Fox was at least good enough to splash a personal winless drought Sunday afternoon.

Fox logged 5.1 innings and left with a 4-1 lead that eventually morphed into a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Bisons at McCoy Stadium. That marked his first credited win since a 9-3 triumph over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15.

It seems only the New England Revolution have waited longer for another victory, and only by one day at that. The local Major League Soccer franchise is 0-6-3 in nine overall outings since edging out the Vancouver Whitecaps, 1-0, on May 14.

Similarly, Fox had reeled in eight consecutive no-decisions, missing out on credit for three PawSox victories along the way, along with the Red Wings’ raid this past Tuesday.

In his first bounce-back opportunity on Sunday, Fox flexed plenty of command. He got Buffalo’s Michael Fisher to whiff on a 0-2 pitch, and then caught Zach Lutz looking at a full-count strike to end the first inning.

Lutz would be benched on strikes in all three of his encounters with Fox, who commenced the second where he left off by getting cleanup DH Fernando Martinez to look at an on-target 3-2 pitch.

But the recurrence of the phrase “full-count” is where the other shoe is at least dangling from one of the McCoy Stadium autograph fish-poles and brushing the dirt in front of the dugout. Of the 97 pitches Fox threw on Sunday, 53 were for strikes while a whopping 44 were for balls.

Out of 22 batters-faced, five worked Fox to a 3-2 count. Two of those cases ended in a K, another in one of four walks the starter authorized on the day.

The fourth culminated in Jesus Feliciano’s RBI single that put Buffalo on the board and sawed Pawtucket’s lead to 2-1 in the fifth. And one inning later, Fox caught Lutz swinging but was finished immediately thereafter when he hit Martinez with a payoff pitch.

Those four walks in 5.1 innings are coming on the heels of two in 2.2 frames versus Rochester, three in five innings at home versus the Red Wings on June 30, and five in Indianapolis June 25. It is certainly a trend that Fox will want to curb going forward as he and the PawSox try to set themselves apart from the IL’s congested pool of playoff contenders.

On the other hand, out of seven Buffalo baserunners on Fox’s tab, only two of them earned their spot by actually swinging the bat. Fox all but gave his outfield the OK to go grab a frozen Del’s to start the 80-degree afternoon as only three Bisons put the ball that far in the first five innings.

The two hits Fox authorized were the fewest in a single outing since his previous win over Scranton exactly eight weeks to date. Likewise, his seven strikeouts equate the season high he set against the Yankees.

And save for a case of back-to-back walks in the second and Bell’s scoring play, no Bison so much as reached scoring position with Fox on duty. All the while, the PawSox were comparatively shagging out Buffalo starter Dylan Owen and his colleagues, sculpting a four-run fortress for Fox and his successors to protect.

They did just that, which cemented a refreshing and timely day of the pitcher’s positives outdueling the drawbacks.