After opening up their spring with a 3-0 seven-inning win over the Northeastern Huskies on Friday, the Red Sox kicked it up a notch and began Grapefruit League play with a tight 4-3 victory over the Rays at JetBlue Park on Saturday.
Making his first start of the spring for Boston in this one was Brian Johnson, who is now off the Sox’ 40-man roster and is at big-league camp as a non-roster invite.
The left-hander only worked the first inning Saturday, and he capped a perfect opening frame off with his only strikeout of the afternoon.
From there, top pitching prospect Bryan Mata worked his way around a one-out single and walk drawn by the Rays with the help of an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play in the second, Colten Brewer fanned three and plunked another in a scoreless third, lefty Josh Osich retired all three hitters he faced in order in the fourth, Mike Kickham got himself out of a bases-loaded jam and kept Tampa Bay off the board in the fifth, Mike Shawaryn punched out one and stranded another in a quick sixth frame, Domingo Tapia did the same in the seventh, and Matthew Kent held his own in the eighth.
By the time this contest reached the beginning of the ninth, the Red Sox had themselves a brand new four-run lead to work with while Kent came back out for his second inning of work.
Despite that comfortable cushion, things did get tight, as the Rays pushed across three runs against Kent and Matthew Gorst before right fielder Tyler Esplin put an end to things on a fly ball off the bat of Vidal Brujan with two outs in the frame.
Had he misjudged the trajectory of the ball, Ryan LaMarre, who was on first, would have more than likely scored and we would have had ourselves a whole new ballgame. Instead, the 2017 seventh-round pick put his athleticism on full display to secure the 4-3 win for his side.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox starting lineup featured plenty of regulars to begin things on Saturday.
Andrew Benintendi led things off in the first with a single en route to a 1-for-2 day at the plate, Jackie Bradley Jr. fanned twice, J.D. Martnez went 0-for-1 with a walk, Michael Chavis punched out in each of his two plate appearances, Kevin Pillar, Jose Peraza, and top prospect Bobby Dalbec all went 0-for-2, Tzu-Wei Lin went 1-for-2 with a leadoff single in the third, and catcher Jett Bandy followed that with a single of his own in his lone plate appearance of the afternoon.
Similar to Friday’s opener, it was another quiet day for the Boston bats. In fact, it wasn’t until the bottom of the fifth when they finally pushed a run across.
There, with two outs and a runner on second following a walk and wild pitch, Brett Netzer drove in his side’s first run on an RBI pop-up single off of Joe Ryan that did not travel further than the outskirts of the left side of the infield.
A ball that probably should have been caught instead went for a hit, and since there were two outs, the runner, Josh Ockimey, was able to score all the way from second because of it. 1-0.
Fast forward all the way to the eighth, and back-to-back run-scoring knocks off the bats of Jagger Rusconi and Nick Lovullo with one out increased that advantage up to three runs.
A walk drawn by Dylan Hardy put runners on the corners for Grant Williams, who grounded out to second base off new Rays reliever Phoenix Sanders while Lovullo scored from third. However, Hardy tried to advance to third on the play and he was tagged out, thus ending the inning with Boston up 4-0.
A late rally from the Rays would threaten that lead, but the Red Sox were able to hold on by the skin of their teeth to take their Grapefruit League opener by a final score of 4-3.
Some notes from this win:
Spring training numbers don’t really matter, so I’ll just say that the Red Sox are undefeated in 2020. Haha!
Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll travel out to Sarasota to take on the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez was slated to start for Boston, but he has since been pushed back a day after twisting his left knee in a bullpen session on Wednesday. Instead, right-hander Chris Mazza will get the starting nod.
Claimed off waivers from the Mets back in December, Mazza is in the mix for the fifth spot in the Sox’ starting rotation, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke.
Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc will start for Baltimore.
First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EDT on NESN.