The Red Sox dropped their third straight Grapefruit League contest on Friday afternoon with a 6-3 loss to the Braves at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla. After winning six games in a row out of the gate, Boston is now 6-3 this spring.
Tanner Houck made his second start of the spring for the Sox. The right-hander allowed three earned runs on two hits and five walks to go along with four strikeouts over just 2 1/3 innings of work.
Following a 1-2-3 first inning to begin his day, Houck first ran into some command-related trouble when he issued back-to-back one-out one walks in the bottom of the second. The 25-year-old escaped without giving anything up, but immediately walked Dansby Swanson to lead things off in the third.
That leadoff walk would prove costly for Houck, as Swanson advanced to third on a flyball double off the bat of Eddie Rosario and scored on an RBI groundout from new Braves first baseman Matt Olson. Rosario himself came into score on an Austin Riley RBI single that gave Atlanta a 2-0 lead.
Houck then walked the final two batters he faced in Marcell Ozuna and Alex Dickerson, which loaded the bases for the Braves and prompted Red Sox manager Alex Cora to pull his starter in favor of Jacob Wallace.
Wallace allowed one of the runners he inherited to score on a sacrifice fly from Ozzie Albies, but otherwise limited the damage to keep the score at 3-0. Fellow UCONN product Matt Barnes took over in the fourth and turned in a solid performance by striking out the side (Travis d’Arnaud, Swanson, and Rosario) in order.
In the fifth, the Red Sox lineup finally got on the board themselves when Ryan Fitzgerald drew a two-out walk off former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and scored all the way from first on a Christian Arroyo single that was botched by Rosario in right field.
Austin Davis was dispatched for the bottom half of the fifth in relief of Barnes. The left-hander worked his way around a one-out walk in an otherwise clean frame before making way for fellow southpaw Darwinzon Hernandez in the sixth.
Hernandez, in turn, loaded the bases with two outs, then served up a two-run single to John Nogowski and one-run single to old friend Brock Holt to give the Braves a commanding 6-1 edge. Hernandez got through the sixth and recorded the first out of the seventh before Franklin German took over for him.
German retired the only two Braves he faced in the seventh, while top pitching prospect Brayan Bello worked a perfect eighth inning and struck out one.
Down to their final three outs in the ninth, Connor Wong and Pedro Castellanos led things off with back-to-back singles off Braves reliever Kyle Muller. A lineout off the bat of Tyreque Reed allowed Wong to advance to third and a line-drive single courtesy of Tyler Dearden allowed him to score from third.
A wild pitch from Muller led to another run-scoring opportunity for Christian Koss, who played Castellanos on a groundout to shortstop Pat Valaika. The Braves then swapped Muller for Nolan Kingham, who retired David Hamilton for the third and final out of the afternoon.
Some notes from this loss:
Tanner Houck walked five of the 14 batters he faced on Friday.
The Red Sox went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base as a team.
Next up: Wacha vs. Kluber
The Red Sox return to Fort Myers on Saturday afternoon to take on the Rays at JetBlue Park. Saturday’s starting pitching matchup will feature a pair of seasoned right-handers going at it, with Michael Wacha getting the ball for Boston and Corey Kluber doing the same for Tampa Bay.
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time. The game will be televised on NESN+.
(Picture of Tanner Houck: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)