Coming off a day off on Monday, the Red Sox kicked off another series against the 22-23 Tampa Bay Rays last night. Last time the Red Sox saw Tampa Bay, they took two out of three from them at Fenway Park and despite the low expectations going into this season, the Rays have not been that bad of a team.
Chris Sale made his eleventh start of the season in this one, and he was phenomenal once again on the mound at Tropicana Field. The lefty recorded his fourth start this month of seven or more innings pitched, as he surrendered two runs (one earned) on four hits, two walks, and a HBP while fanning nine Rays on the night. Up to this point in the season, there has been some talk about where the velocity of Sale’s fastballs are at, but that was not a concern last night. Right from the get go, the Florida native had his four-seamer working in his favor. In fact, the fastest pitch Sale threw came in the seventh inning when he reached 99 MPH on his 96th pitch of the game.
There were two costly mistakes that Sale made in his start last night, and they came in the fourth and fifth innings. With a three run lead going into the bottom of the fourth, the Rays put their first run on the board via a solo home run off the bat of their #1 prospect, Willy Adames. An inning later, after Rob Refsnyder led things off with a double and advanced to third on a passed ball with one out, Daniel Robertson scored the runner from third by flying out to left field. After getting out of the fifth with just that one run surrendered, Sale tossed two more scoreless innings and got the first two outs of the eighth before his departure. With his pitch count all the way up at 112 pitches (73 strikes), Sale was met with a standing ovation from the visiting crowd, which was more than likely consisted of mostly Red Sox fans, but it was still nice to see him get that sort of reception in a building he absolutely owns. As a matter of fact, after last night’s outing, Sale now owns a 1.92 ERA in 65.2 innings pitched at Tropicana Field. He’ll look to build on this start in his next time out against the Atlanta Braves this upcoming weekend.
In relief of Sale, Joe Kelly got the call out of the bullpen with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Responsible for one out, Kelly struck out the only batter he faced to pick up his seventh hold of the season.
Next out of the Red Sox bullpen was Craig Kimbrel. Looking to protect a two run lead and record his 14th save this season, getting there certainly was not an easy journey for the Red Sox closer. The Rays reached base three times in the inning, ultimately loading the bases with two outs for outfielder Mallex Smith. Thankfully, Kimbrel got Smith to ground into a force out, and this ballgame was over.
Looking at the numbers, we have not seen the best out of the 29-year-old this month. In nine appearances, Kimbrel has pitched 8.2 innings. Over that span, he has given up four earned runs (three home runs) on six hits and a walk. That’s good for a 4.15 ERA, and I expect those numbers to improve over the next nine games left in May, but I just wanted to point that out.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup got all their scoring done on two swings of the bat. The first came from Mookie Betts in the third inning, and the second came from Rafael Devers in the sixth inning.
Facing off against Rays starter Jake Faria with Jackie Bradley Jr. at first and Sandy Leon at second, Betts mashed his league-leading 16th home run of the season.
That 405 foot shot to left field was good for three, and it marked the third home run for Betts in his last four games.
Fast forward to the sixth, with the lead cut to just one run, Rafael Devers provided a little insurance with his ninth big fly of the season. This one coming off Rays reliever Austin Pruitt.
In the last 10 games he has played in, Devers is only slashing .167/.250/.417 with six hits. Half of those hits have been home runs.
That solo shot gave the Red Sox their fourth and final run of the game, which was good enough to pick up their league-leading 33rd win of the season.
Some notes from this one:
With another base knock last night, Sandy Leon is quietly has a slash line of .400/.478/.600 over the last seven games he has appeared in. With the way Christian Vazquez has disappointed this season, maybe Leon could see an increase in time behind the plate.
For only the fifth time this season, Jackie Bradley Jr. has recorded a base hit in consecutive games after his 2-for-4 performance at the plate on Tuesday.
Since returning from that road trip that ended in Toronto less than two weeks ago, Hanley Ramirez owns a .172 slugging percentage. I won’t bring up the other numbers, which are also ugly, but that is borderline unacceptable for a player who is capable of putting up 30 home runs in any given season. Might be time to get Mitch Moreland more playing time at first base.
On a more positive note, the Red Sox will look to take the second game of this series against the Rays later tonight. Coming off a great start against the Orioles, David Price will be taking the mound against his old team, while it will be Chris Archer going for Tampa Bay. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.