After suffering their first loss of the spring at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, the Red Sox partook in some split-squad action on Monday, sending one group of players right down the road to take on the Twins at Hammond Stadium, and another to Port Charlotte to take on the Rays.
Starting with the contest against Minnesota, Nathan Eovaldi got his first start of the spring for Boston, and he impressed.
Working the first two frames, the right-hander scattered two hits and zero walks while fanning four of the final five hitters he faced on the afternoon. His four-seam fastball also reached upwards of 100 MPH on the radar gun.
From there, left-hander Kyle Hart yielded three runs on a pair of homers off the bats of Gilberto Celestino and Nelson Cruz in an ugly third, Hector Velazquez and Trevor Hildenberger combined to toss four total innings of scoreless relief, and Robinson Leyer worked his way around a leadoff walk in an otherwise clean bottom half of the eighth to keep it at a one-run game going into the ninth.
So, outside of a bad first impression from Hart, who like Chris Mazza is vying for a spot in the Sox’ starting rotation, not a terrible day for pitching.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox starting lineup that featured plenty of regulars was matched up against newest Twins right-hander Kenta Maeda to begin things on Monday.
Andrew Benintendi did not waste any time greeting Maeda, as Boston’s leadoff man unloaded on a 1-0 fastball and pulled it deep to right for his first big fly of the spring.
That solo shot gave Boston an early advantage, but they were unable to immediately counter after Minnesota tacked on three runs of their own in the third.
It wasn’t until the top half of the ninth when the Sox bats finally got going again, when after reaching base on a one-out double, Roldani Baldwin advanced to third on a wild pitch from Twins reliever Charlie Barnes.
A grounder off the bat of Pedro Castellanos could have gone for the second out of the frame, but a fielding error committed by third baseman Cody Asche allowed Baldwin to score from third and Castellanos to reach first safely.
A Brett Netzer single following a Tate Matheny punchout put the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at first with two outs for Ryan Fitzgerald, who proceeded to ground out to short for the final out of the contest, although he did nearly beat the throw, to wrap this one up with a final score of 3-2.
Traveling north to Port Charlotte now, it was top pitching prospect Tanner Houck getting the start for the Red Sox against the Rays.
The 23-year-old right-hander was temporarily converted to a reliever last year while in the minors, but after going back to starting in the Arizona Fall League, that appears to be the way things are heading in terms of Houck’s development.
Like Eovaldi, Houck worked the first two innings of Monday’s contest, holding Tampa Bay off the scoreboard while scattering one hit and two walks to go along with one strikeout on the afternoon.
With the first two hitters he faced reaching base on a leadoff double and walk in the first, it did not look like things were going to go too swimmingly for Houck, but the Illinois native was able to get back on track with the help of an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play and he did not have to look back from there.
In relief of Houck, left-hander Jeffrey Spring yielded one run on a solo home run off the bat of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo over two innings of work, Austin Brice fanned four of the eight hitters he faced from the start of the fifth up until the two-out mark of the sixth, when Rio Gomez came on, walked two to load the bases, and escaped the jam by getting Rene Pinto to line out to left.
From there, R.J. Alvarez sat down the side in order in the seventh, left-hander Daniel McGrath surrendered the tying run on a wild pitch in the eighth, and Eduard Bazardo secured the 2-2 tie by stranding the potential winning run at second in a scoreless ninth.
Again, outside of a few tough innings, not a terrible showing from Sox pitching as a whole.
Offensively, the Red Sox starting lineup that featured names such as Jose Peraza, Tzu-Wei Lin, Michael Chavis, Kevin Plawecki, Jeter Downs, and Jarren Duran was matched up against a familiar opponent in right-hander Yonny Chirinos for Tampa Bay.
Peraza kicked things off right away in the first by reaching base on a leadoff single and coming around to score on an RBI base knock from Plawecki three at-bats later. 1-0.
Fast forward all the way to the sixth, and it was top outfield prospect Jarren Duran setting the table against Rays reliever Dylan Covey, as he led the inning off with a single up the middle, advanced to second on another single from Lin, and tagged up to third on a lineout to left field off the bat of Michael Chavis. That is not an easy thing to do.
So, with runners at the corners and two outs in the frame, the pinch-hitting Juan Centeno came to the plate with the chance to put his side in front, and he did just that without even having to swing his bat, as Covey attempted to pick off Lin at first with an errant throw that got past Tristan Gray and allowed Duran to coast in from third.
That beneficial mishap gave the Sox their second lead of the afternoon at 2-1, but the Rays staged a mini-rally of their own to knot things back up at 2-2, which would go on to be Monday’s final score upon the completion of nine full innings.
Some observations from Monday’s tie and loss:
As the leading candidate to lead off for the Red Sox in the wake of Mookie Betts’ departure, it was nice to see Andrew Benintendi crush a leadoff homer against the Twins.
Through five plate appearances this spring, Jarren Duran has an OPS of 1.600. Those numbers may not carry much weight, but I will stick to what I said Sunday in that the 23-year-old is one of the most exciting Red Sox prospects to watch.
If the Red Sox intend to compete in 2020, they will need Nathan Eovaldi to fully contribute to the cause. Monday’s start was a promising step in the right direction, hopefully.
Through their first four Grapefruit League contests, the Red Sox have combined to score 13 total runs.
Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll host a split-squad Orioles team on Tuesday afternoon at JetBlue Park.
Right-hander Ryan Weber is slated to get the start for Boston, while fellow righty Kohl Stewart will do the same for Baltimore.
Weber is another candidate for the fifth spot in the Sox’ starting rotation. The 29-year-old did start three games for Boston last year.
First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST. It doesn’t look like this game will be televised at all.