After dropping two out of three against the lowly Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, the Red Sox headed south to St. Petersburg, Fla. with something to prove, as Monday marked the first of 14 straight games against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees.
With the decision to be buyers or sellers hanging in this balance during this crucial stretch, the Sox took an important first step Monday, taking the opener from their divisional foes by a final score of 9-4.
Making his 21st start of the season for Boston and third against Tampa Bay was Eduardo Rodriguez, who came into the week having never come out victorious in any of his previous two career outings at Tropicana Field.
Bucking the trend this time around, the left-hander held the Rays scoreless over seven quality innings, yielding just a pair of hits and four walks to go along with six strikeouts on the night.
Oddly enough, Rodriguez began his outing by walking the first man he faced in Travis d’Arnaud. Leadoff walks typically do not lead to positive results, but the Venezuela native wound up facing the minimum in the frame thanks to a 4-3 double play from Tommy Pham and a simple groundout off the bat of Austin Meadows.
From there, Rodriguez faced no more than four hitters in a single inning and retired 18 of the next 23 Rays who came to the plate leading into the end of the seventh, the point in which his impressive evening came to a close.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 113 (70 strikes), the 26-year-old hurler relied on his four-seam fastball nearly 39% of the time he was on the mound Monday, inducing five swings and misses and topping out at 94.4 MPH with the pitch while Christian Vazquez was behind the plate.
Ultimately improving to 12-4 while lowering his ERA on the season down to 4.10, Rodriguez has enjoyed a great deal of success thus far in July.
In four starts this month, Rodriguez is 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA and .159 batting average against over his last 25 1/3 innings of work. He’ll look to keep it going in his next time out, which should come against the Yankees on Saturday.
In relief of Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi made his first appearance out of the Red Sox bullpen since being activated off the injured list this past Saturday.
Sox manager Alex Cora said pregame that Eovaldi would be used regardless of that score, and that turned out to be a positive development for Boston, as he entered the eighth inning with his team up by eight runs.
Only able to record the first two outs of the frame, Eovaldi allowed three Tampa Bay runs to cross the plate on four hits, two of which went for extra bases. He struck out two and averaged 97.8 MPH with his heater, but did give up a fair amount of fair contact.
Granted, this was just the second time the 29-year-old had seen in-game action since he hit the IL in late April, so this simply could have been an instance of shaking off the rust.
Still, Boston’s lead had been cut down to five runs, and Eovaldi got the hook in favor of Matt Barnes, who got that final out of the eighth by getting Willy Adames to ground out to short.
And finally, in the ninth, left-hander Josh Taylor surrendered one run on a leadoff walk and back-to-back one-out knocks from d’Arnaud and Tommy Pham before securing the 9-4 victory with a five-pitch punchout of Yandy Diaz and Nate Lowe.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a familiar foe in Rays southpaw Jalen Beeks, a former Sox prospect that made the trade for Eovaldi last year possible.
Entering Monday with a solid 2.78 ERA in his first 20 appearances of 2019, Beeks did not find that same kind of success in his first start of the season and first as a Ray.
It took until the top half of the third inning, but a one-out single off the bat of Marco Hernandez is what got the Boston bats going.
That being the case because two at-bats later, after Mookie Betts had advanced Hernandez into scoring position by drawing an eight-pitch walk, Rafael Devers got his team on the board first with a two-run opposite field double off a 1-1, 94 MPH fastball. 2-0.
Another walk drawn by Xander Bogaerts put runners at first and second for J.D. Martinez, who took the first five pitches he saw before fouling the sixth one off and depositing the seventh one, a 3-2, 92 MPH heater, 415 feet to right-center for his 20th home run of the season. That one nearly got into the Rays tank. 5-0.
Two batters later, with two outs in the inning now, Andrew Benintendi took his old college teammate yard on his eight big fly of 2019. This one coming off a 3-1, 75 MPH curveball and being sent 394 feet into the right field seats.
Sam Travis followed that up with a dinger of his own on the very next pitch from Beeks, his second in four days, and just like that, the Red Sox were up seven runs early.
In the fourth, with Beeks out, right-hander Chaz Roe in, and Hernandez at second after reaching on a leadoff single against the Rays starter, Bogaerts provided his team with more two-out run support, plating Hernandez on a hustle RBI bloop double to right field to make it an eight-run contest.
Fast forward all the way to the ninth, with infielder Michael Brosseau pitching for Tampa Bay despite it only being a five-run game, and J.D. Martinez put this one to bed by collecting his fourth RBI of the night on a two-out, run-scoring two-bagger to drive in Bogaerts from second.
Martinez’s second hit gave the Red Sox the 9-3 edge, and after the Rays got one back in their half of the ninth, 9-4 would go on to be Monday’s final score.
Some notes from this win:
From The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier:
Andrew Benintendi finished a triple shy of the cycle on Monday.
Xander Bogaerts’ last 15 games: .377/.441/.705 with five home runs and 18 RBI.
With the win on Monday, the Red Sox stand just one game behind the Rays in the American League Standings. They’ll look to make that one a zero on Tuesday.
Left-hander Chris Sale is set to get the ball for Boston in the middle game of the three-game series, while right-hander Yonny Chirinos will do the same for Tampa Bay.
Fresh off his best outing in quite some time in his last time out against the Toronto Blue Jays, Sale has only faced the Rays one time this season back on April 28th, where he allowed four runs (two earned) on four hits and three walks over seven innings pitched.
In 10 prior outings (nine starts) at Tropicana Field, the 30-year-old is 4-3 with a 1.92 ERA and .213 batting average against over 65 2/3 total innings of work.
Chirinos, meanwhile, brings with him a 3.29 ERA through his first 20 appearances (14 starts) of 2019. His best start of the season in terms of Game Score came against the Red Sox, where he tossed eight shutout innings en route to a 5-1 win back on June 7th.
Including that gem, Chirinos owns a lifetime 2.88 ERA over five outings (three starts) and 25 innings pitching against Boston.
First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 7:10 PM EDT on NESN. Red Sox going for the series victory.