Corey Kluber tosses 4 innings in final tune-up before Opening Day as Red Sox fall to Rays, 4-2

The Red Sox were held to just four hits in a loss to the Rays on Saturday afternoon. Boston fell to Tampa Bay by a final score of 4-2 at Tropicana Field to drop to 14-11-4 in Grapefruit League play.

More important than the offensive numbers was Corey Kluber making his final start of the spring for the Sox. The veteran right-hander allowed three earned runs on four hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout over four innings of work.

The Rays got to Kluber right away in the top of the first, with Tristan Gray belting a one-out solo shot 379 feet down the right field line to give Tampa Bay an early 1-0 lead.

Three innings later, the Red Sox responded with a big fly of their own. After Ceddanne Rafaela led off the top of the fourth with an infield single, Enmanuel Valdez followed by crushing a 396-foot two-run home run to right field off Rays starter Yonny Chirinos. Valdez’s second homer of the spring had an exit velocity of 101.1 mph and put Boston up, 2-1.

Kluber had settled down to that point but ran into more trouble in the latter half of the fourth. There, he allowed two of the first four batters he faced to reach base, which put runners at second and third with two outs for Taylor Walls. Walls, in turn, came through with a two-run double that landed in front of right fielder Wilyer Abreu and scored both Harold Ramirez and Christian Bethancourt.

With the Rays retaking the lead at 3-2, Kluber stranded Walls at second base by getting the final batter he would face in Jose Siri to line out to left field. All told, the 36-year-old hurler finished with a final pitch count of 62 (38 strikes). He induced nine total swings-and-misses and averaged 85.6 mph with his cutter (his most-frequently used pitch), per Baseball Savant.

Kluber finishes the spring having posted a 3.24 ERA with 15 strikeouts to seven walks over five starts (16 2/3 innings). The two-time Cy Young Award winner will next take the mound when the Red Sox host the Orioles on Opening Day (March 30) at Fenway Park.

In relief of Kluber, Zack Kelly received the first call out of the Boston bullpen in the middle of the fifth. The righty fanned a pair over two scoreless frames before making way for Durbin Feltman, who issued a leadoff walk to Siri to begin things in the seventh.

The quick-footed Siri put his speed on full display by stealing second base and moving up to third on a wild pitch while Feltman was busy recording the first two outs of the inning. With runners on the corners and the pinch-hitting Daniel Robertson at the plate, Feltman was caught napping as Siri took off for home and scored rather easily thanks to a poor throw back to the plate.

Siri’s successful steal of home extended the Rays’ lead to two runs at 4-2. After Feltman worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning, the Red Sox were suddenly down to their final three outs. With Pete Fairbanks on the mound for Tampa Bay, Stephen Scott, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Narciso Crook all went down quietly to end it.

Other worthwhile observations:

Top prospect Marcelo Mayer replaced David Hamilton at shortstop in the sixth inning. The 20-year-old made his only trip to the plate in the eighth and ripped a single off old friend Heath Hembree before stealing his first base of the spring.

Niko Kavadas, another prospect who made the trip to St. Petersburg, accounted for Boston’s only double in the top of the fifth inning. Enmanuel Valdez was the only other member of the starting lineup to register an extra-base hit in Saturday’s contest, which took all of two hours and six minutes to complete.

Next up: Chairman’s Cup finale

The Red Sox will wrap up the final weekend of the Grapefruit League campaign by hosting the Twins in Fort Myers on Sunday afternoon. Since the two sides split the first four games of the series, Sunday’s bout will determine who takes home the 2023 Chairman’s Cup.

Boston will be sending left-hander Chris Sale to the hill while Minnesota will roll with right-hander Sonny Gray. First pitch from Fenway Park is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Corey Kluber: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

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Author: Brendan Campbell

Blogging about the Boston Red Sox since April '17. Also support Tottenham Hotspur.

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