Mariners-Red Sox Preview

If the Boston Red Sox are going to get back in the playoff race,

they’ll probably need more consistent contributions from their

highest-paid pitchers.

John Lackey won the series opener against the Seattle Mariners,

and Josh Beckett hopes to break out of his slump and follow suit

Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox (72-54) signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million

contract in the offseason, then gave Beckett a four-year, $68

million extension April 5.

Both veteran right-handers have ERAs above the league average,

though, and Boston’s rotation has instead been anchored by younger

pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

Lackey won his 12th game by pitching eight innings in a 6-3 win

over Seattle on Monday night, pulling the Red Sox within 5 1/2

games of the AL East lead, but Beckett’s recent problems have been

more troubling.

After initially pitching well following a two-month stint on the

disabled list, Beckett (3-3, 6.67 ERA) has allowed at least six

runs in each of his last three starts – all Boston losses.

The one-time ace gave up two hits while cruising through five

shutout innings Thursday against the Angels, but crumbled in the

sixth and seventh during a 7-2 defeat.

“The hope is that he can build off of the positive that he did

and not let the sixth get in the way of the rest of the season,”

manager Terry Francona told the Red Sox’s official website. “He was

really good. It was just the (hits) were all in a row.”

Beckett may relish the chance to face the majors’ worst offense.

Since joining the Red Sox, he’s 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA in five starts

against Seattle, which ranks last in the majors in batting average

(.237) and runs (411).

Pitching has also been a significant problem for the last-place

Mariners (49-76) during their latest losing streak. Seattle won

five of the first seven games on its season-high 12-game road trip,

but it has allowed 25 runs while losing its last three.

David Pauley (2-4, 3.70) hopes to end that skid as he appears at

Fenway for the first time since the Red Sox traded him to Baltimore

before last season.

His career with Boston included brief stints in the majors in

2006 and 2008, but the right-hander didn’t get his first major

league win until Aug. 13 against Cleveland. He followed that up

with another victory Wednesday at Baltimore.

Pauley pitched well against the Red Sox on July 24, working 5

2-3 innings of Seattle’s 5-1 home win, but he struggled in four

appearances at Fenway Park while with Boston, going 0-2 with an

11.57 ERA.

Marco Scutaro provided the biggest boost for Boston’s depleted

lineup Monday, matching a season high with four RBIs as the Red Sox

won their third straight. The club hasn’t won four in a row since a

six-game run June 15-20.

“I’d say he’s gave us stability all year,” Francona said of

Scutaro. “We were really excited when we got him.”

Scutaro has gone 11 for 26 on this homestand, batting leadoff in

place of injured outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury – atop a lineup that is

also missing Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Cameron.

Help may be on the way. Detroit’s Johnny Damon, who helped

Boston win the World Series in 2004 but joined the rival Yankees in

2006, is weighing whether to accept a trade to the Red Sox.

“If I do this, and we pulled everything together and I could

help them get into the postseason, it would change everything

again,” Damon said.