Entering Friday losers of three of their last four, the Red Sox traveled down to St. Petersburg for a three-game weekend set against the team currently sitting atop the American League East in the 14-5 Tampa Bay Rays.
Facing off against the Rays for the first time this season, Eduardo Rodriguez made his fourth career start at Tropicana Field to kick off Easter weekend.
Pitching into the sixth inning, the left-hander had an up and down kind of night, surrendering four runs (three earned) on seven hits, one walk, and one HBP to go along with six strikeouts over 5.1 innings of work.
After allowing the first two batters he faced in the first to reach base, Rodriguez proceeded to retire the next four Rays hitters he faced before giving up a second inning solo home run to second baseman Brandon Lowe, which gave Tampa Bay the early lead.
An inning later, allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base would come back to bite Rodriguez this time around, as Yandy Diaz tallied the Rays’ second run of the night on a two out RBI triple off the bat of ex-White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia to make it a 2-0 contest.
Later in the fifth, a superb 5-4-3 inning-ending double play started by Rafael Devers kept the Rays off the scoreboard this time, but things got sour for a bit in the next frame.
Following a four-run rally from the Red Sox bats over the course of the fifth and sixth innings, Rodriguez had the opportunity to notch his second consecutive quality start, but could not see the inning through.
Ironically enough, Devers, with a flashy defensive play under his belt already, ended up being the main reason the Rays scored in the sixth to begin with, as his fielding error on a Avisail Garcia ground ball could have resulted in another double play, but instead allowed both Austin Meadows and Garcia to reach base safely with no outs.
Capitalizing on that mistake right away, the very next hitter Rodriguez faced after that Devers mishap, Daniel Robertson, ripped a two-run double down the left field line, plating both runners while simultaneously tying this contest up at four runs a piece and putting an end to Rodriguez’s evening.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 94 (57 strikes), the 26-year-old hurler relied on his cutter and four-seam fastball a combined 68% of the time on Friday and induced 10 total swings and misses while doing so.
Still with just one winning decision this season, Rodriguez’s next start should come sometime next week at home against the Detroit Tigers.
In relief of Rodriguez, Brandon Workman came into this one fresh off his worst outing of the year on Tuesday, and was tasked with stranding the potential go-ahead run at first with two outs to get.
Needing just two pitches in the sixth alone, Workman managed to get Rays shortstop Willy Adames to ground into another inning-ending 6-4-3 double play before tossing a scoreless seventh inning with the help of a Christian Vazquez caught stealing as well.
From there, Matt Barnes collected a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 eighth to make way for Ryan Brasier, who rebounded from a rough Tuesday night in the Bronx and picked up his fourth save of the year thanks to a scoreless ninth.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against Rays opener Ryne Stanek to start things out on Friday, and it took a while for the bats to get going.
Going the first four innings without a single hit, a JD Martinez leadoff walk off southpaw Ryan Yarbrough in the fifth would turn out to be the catalyst of a three-run inning, with Rafael Devers driving in Boston’s first run of the night on a one out, 107 MPH RBI double.
Just a few pitches after that, Christian Vazquez would pull his team ahead for the time being by blasting his fourth home run of the season already to make it a 3-2 game. He hit three homers all of last year.
An inning later, after Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland led things off with a pair of singles off Wilmer Font, Martinez was back at it again, this time collecting his 11th RBI of the season on a line drive single to center that scored the reigning AL MVP from third. 4-2.
That two-run lead would not last long though, and it wasn’t until the eighth when the Red Sox finally put this game to bed.
Almost exactly like the top half of the sixth, except with Rays reliever Diego Castillo on the mound this time, Betts and Moreland were responsible for Boston’s final two runs of the night, with each mashing crucial solo homers to give the Red Sox a 6-4 lead, which would go on to be the final score in this one.
Betts, with his fourth homer of the year, hit the ball to the deepest part of the yard at 424 feet to dead center. That could be exactly what he needs to get on a roll after a slow start to his 2019. You could tell hitting that meant something to him as he was rounding the bases.
Moreland, meanwhile, now leads the Red Sox with six home runs on the season, this one coming off the bat at 101 MPH with a projected distance of 411 feet to right center.
Entering Friday, Castillo had yet to surrender a home run in 11 innings of relief for Tampa Bat.
One note from this win:
JD Martinez has reached base in all 20 games the Red Sox have played in this season. He is currently batting .352 (19/54) with two home runs and four RBI over the course of his current nine-game hitting streak.
Next up for the Red Sox, it will be Rick Porcello getting the ball in the middle game of this series against right-hander Charlie Morton.
Currently sporting an unsightly 11.32 ERA through three starts this season, I believe it’s safe to say that Saturday is an extremely important day for the right-hander.
In 15 career starts at the Trop, Porcello owns a 2.86 ERA and .244 batting average against over 97.2 total innings.
Starting for the Rays, as I mentioned earlier, will be ex-Astros hurler Charlie Morton, who in his first season in Tampa Bay, has given up just five earned runs in his first four starts and 20.2 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 2.18.
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 6:10 PM EDT on NESN. Red Sox going for two in a row.