Red Sox officially sign Michael Wacha to one-year deal; veteran right-hander will earn $7 million in 2022

The Red Sox have officially signed free agent right-hander Michael Wacha to a one-year contract for the 2022 season, the club announced earlier Saturday morning.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported on Friday that the two sides were finalizing a contract that was pending a physical, which Wacha has since passed.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, the one-year deal is worth $7 million in value and does not include any options or incentives. The $7 million Wacha will earn in 2022 represents a significant raise from the $3 million he received with the Mets in 2020 and Rays in 2021.

This past season with Tampa Bay, the 30-year-old posted an unspectacular 5.05 ERA and 4.47 FIP to go along with 121 strikeouts to 31 walks over 29 appearances (23 starts) spanning 124 2/3 innings of work.

While Wacha may have struggled at times this year, he did put up a respectable 3.91 xFIP and career-best chase rate of 32.6%, which ranked in the 92nd percentile among major-league pitchers according to Baseball Savant.

From August 28 through the end of the regular season, Wacha appeared in seven games and made a total of six starts for the Rays. In that stretch, he pitched to the tune of a 2.88 ERA and 3.29 FIP while limiting opponents to a .167/.217/.300 slash line against and striking out 27.9% of the batters he faced.

For most of the 2021 campaign, Wacha had relied on his cutter as one of his most frequently-used pitches. But it got hit hard, so he ditched it later on the year in favor of throwing more four-seam fastballs (his primary pitch) and changeups as well as slightly more curveballs and sinkers.

Via Baseball Savant

A former first-round draft selection of the Cardinals out of Texas A&M University in 2012, Wacha spent the first seven years of his big-league career in St. Louis. The 6-foot-6, 215 pound righty was named MVP of the National League Championship Series in 2013 and earned his first and only All-Star selection to date in 2015.

After making more than 150 starts in a Cardinals uniform, Wacha inked a one-year pact with the Mets and spent the compressed 2020 season in Queens before joining the Rays on another one-year deal.

With the Red Sox, Wacha, who turns 31 next July, is now on his third team in three seasons. As of now, the veteran hurler is slated to join a starting rotation in Boston that includes the likes of Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, and Nick Pivetta with Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock in the mix as well.

That being said, Speier reports that when the offseason began, the Red Sox “intended to add starting pitching depth, and will continue to explore ways of doing so by both trade and free agency.”

Wacha does, however, have experience working out of the bullpen, and so the Sox could elect to have him undertake a multi-inning reliever role if they feel that is where he would best be used to start things out in 2022.

On another note, Wacha — who is represented by CAA Sports — will wear the No. 52 with the Red Sox.

(Picture of Michael Wacha: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Red Sox crush 5 homers, collect 20 hits in 14-6 rout of Rays to even ALDS at 1-1

It was a back-and-forth kind of affair, but the Red Sox were once again able to battle their way back for a potentially pivotal win over the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

Despite putting themselves in an early hole, Boston bested Tampa Bay by a final score of 14-6 at Tropicana Field on Friday night to even this best-of-five series at one game apiece.

Coming off a Game 1 showing in which they were shut out in a postseason game for the first time in five years, the Red Sox lineup jumped all over Rays rookie starter Shane Baz to begin things in Game 2.

Kyle Schwarber led off the top of the first inning by drawing a four-pitch walk before moving up to third base on a ground-ball double from Enrique Hernandez.

Rafael Devers struck out on five pitches for the first out of the fifth, but Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo each followed by getting their productive nights at the plate started with back-to-back run-scoring singles.

The first instance of the Bogaerts-Verdugo combination at work gave the Red Sox an immediate 2-0 lead as Chris Sale took the mound, though it did not last long.

Sale, like Eduardo Rodriguez before him, was not long for his first postseason start since 2018. That being the case because the veteran left-hander surrendered five runs — all of which were earned — on four hits and one walk to go along with two strikeouts on the night.

On his first two pitches of the first inning, the Rays put runners on first and second on a pair of quick singles. Sale then issued a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz to fill the bases before giving up an RBI single to Yandy Diaz.

Diaz’s base hit pushed across the Rays’ first run of the night while also re-filling the bases for Jordan Luplow, who was primarily in Tampa Bay’s lineup to face of against left-handed pitching.

Sale, in turn, proceeded to serve up a towering, 387-foot grand slam to the right-handed hitting Luplow that saw Boston’s 2-1 lead turn into a 5-2 defecit.

On the heels of giving up that impactful of a hit, Sale’s day was done as soon as he recorded the final out of the first inning. The 32-year-old hurler finished with a final pitch count of 30 (20 strikes) and induced just three swings-and-misses in total.

Having to turn to his bullpen earlier than anticipated for the second straight day, Red Sox manager Alex Cora handed things over to Tanner Houck in the middle of the second inning, and that decision proved to be quite beneficial.

After Houck retired the side in order in the bottom of the second, the aforementioned Bogaerts-Verdugo combination struck again in the top of the third, as the All-Star shortstop clubbed a one-out solo shot to knock Baz out of the game while the fiery outfielder greeted new reliever Collin McHugh by crushing a home run of his own.

The back-to-back blasts off the bats of Bogaerts and Verdugo cut Tampa Bay’s deficit down to one run at 5-4. Houck, in return, kept the score just like that by putting up two more zeroes in the third and fourth innings.

In the top half of the fifth, Hernandez provided some power, as he led the frame off by taking McHugh 393 feet deep to left field on a hanging slider to pull his side back even with the opposition at 5-5.

Hernandez’s homer was only a precursor of what was to come in the fifth, though, with Devers and Bogaerts each reaching base before J.D. Martinez made his impact felt in his return to the lineup by tattooing a go-ahead, three-run home run over everything in center field.

Martinez’s three-run blast, which came off Matt Wisler and traveled 412 feet off his bat, broke a 5-5 stalemate and gave the Sox their first lead since the first inning at 8-5 going into the halfway point.

Houck, meanwhile, was in the process of stringing together an impressive run of his own. Going back to his final start of the regular season against the Nationals last Saturday, the righty sat down 29 straight hitters before allowing a two-out single to Wander Franco in the bottom of the fifth.

From there, Houck got through the fifth before serving up a solo shot to Ji-Man Choi an inning later, though he wrapped up his evening on a high note and — in the end — gave up just that one run while scattering two hits, zero walks, and five strikeouts in his five innings of relief.

Christian Vazquez, who had been catching Houck, got one of those runs back when he drove in Verdugo on a ground-ball RBI single in the top of the seventh before being behind the plate while Ryan Brasier punched out the side in the bottom half.

Devers, sore right arm and all, added on to Boston’s lead in the eighth inning when he — while matched up against Michael Wacha — scored Hernandez and demolished a 425-foot two-run home run over the center field wall.

The Red Sox went up 11-6 on Devers’ home run. It was also Boston’s fifth homer of the night, which sets a new franchise record for the most hit in a single postseason game.

Hansel Robles took over for Brasier and preserved an 11-6 lead with a scoreless bottom of the eighth, while Vazquez tacked on one more on another RBI single.

Hernandez, meanwhile, capped off his stellar night by putting the finishing touches on his first-ever five-hit game (in the regular and postseas0n). He plated both Hunter Renfroe and Vazquez on a two-run single that made it a 14-6 game.

Given a sizable cushion to work with now, Matt Barnes — who was just added to the ALDS roster in place of Garrett Richards on Friday — slammed the door on the Rays in the bottom half of the ninth to lock up a 14-6 victory.

With the win, the Red Sox pull even with the Rays in this best-of-five series and now have the opportunity to win it back at home.

Red Sox lineup breaks out in a tremendous way

Out of the No. 2 spot on Friday, Enrique Hernandez went 5-for-6 with three doubles, one home run, three RBI, and three runs scored. He becomes the first Red Sox player to ever record four extra-base hits in a postseason game.

Xander Bogaerts, Alex Verdugo, and J.D. Martinez (Boston’s Nos. 4, 5, and 6 hitters) went a combined 10-for-15 with one double, three home runs, seven RBI, and five runs scored.

Verdugo, starting in left field, also made a nice catch in foul territory to prevent Nelson Cruz from extending his at-bat against Tanner Houck in the sixth inning.

Houck earns win

Tanner Houck earned his first career postseason win in Friday’s win. He has essentially been lights out since the calendar flipped to October.

Next up: Eovaldi on tap for Game 3

The Red Sox will board a flight to Boston, enjoy an off day on Saturday, then resume this ALDS with the Rays at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is slated to get the ball for Boston in Game 3, while fellow righty Drew Rasmussen will do the same for Tampa Bay.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. eastern time on MLB Network.

(Picture of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Red Sox tab Eduardo Rodriguez to start Game 1 of ALDS vs. Rays; Chris Sale likely to start second game of best-of-5 series

The Red Sox have tabbed Eduardo Rodriguez to start Game 1 of the American Division series against the Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday night.

Rodriguez will start opposite a fellow southpaw in the form of Rays rookie Shane McClanahan, as first pitch Thursday is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

Over the course of the season, Rodriguez certainly experienced his fair share of ups and downs after missing all of year due to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart of muscle) that came as a result of a bout with COVID-19.

In 32 outings (31 starts) this year, the 28-year-old left-hander posted a 4.74 ERA over 157 2/3 innings of work, though he put up a much more respectable 3.32 FIP in that same time frame.

On top of that, Rodriguez ended his regular season on a high-note by pitching to the tune of a 3.26 ERA and 3.07 FIP over his final 12 appearances (11 starts) and 58 innings pitched from August 4 on.

While matched up against the Rays at Tropicana Field on two separate occasions this season, Rodriguez allowed a total of five runs (three earned) on 11 hits, two walks, and 13 strikeouts over 12 innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 2.25 — as well as an OPS against of .625.

When asked on Wednesday why he decided to give the ball to Rodriguez for the opening contest of a pivotal best-of-five series against a division rival on the road, Red Sox manager Alex Cora offered a simple explanation.

“He has been throwing the ball well,” Cora said. “We think it’s a good matchup. Obviously with them you have to mix and match. They’re going to look for an advantage and all that. We’ll have Nick [Pivetta] in the bullpen tomorrow, and we’ll do what we do.”

Cora went on to say that the Sox still have plenty of decisions to make by the time rosters are due on Thursday, but he also emphasized how the team trusts in Rodriguez given the lefty’s past success in St. Petersburg.

“We feel Eddie has been there, done that,” said Cora. “He threw the ball well here before just like others on our pitching staff, so we feel very comfortable with him.”

Rodriguez will be making just his second career postseason start on Thursday night, representing another important milestone as he looks to build on what has already been a rejuvenating 2021 campaign.

“I’m very proud of him,” Cora said. “First thing is first, last year was a very difficult year for him not being able to play because of health issues. And the fact that he will be the starter tomorrow, I know it means a lot to him and his family. You know, his support system has been amazing throughout, and we are very proud of him.

“I mean, what he has done this season, regardless of the up and downs, he didn’t throw the ball extremely well at one point,” added Cora. “But he has been very consistent throughout. And he has been making adjustments every start and, you know, he has been getting better and better.”

As for who will follow Rodriguez and start for Boston in Game 2 of the ALDS, Cora has yet to make anything official, though he did say that “there’s a good chance” that responsibility will fall to Chris Sale.

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Taylor Motter batting leadoff in first start with Red Sox

In his very first start for the Red Sox, newcomer Taylor Motter has been tasked with leading off against the Rays at Fenway Park on Monday afternoon.

Motter, who turns 32 later this month, has appeared in two games for the Sox — both as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement — since being claimed off waivers from the Rockies on Thursday and subsequently being added to the major-league roster on Saturday.

For his major-league career, which dates back to 2016, the right-handed hitter has batted leadoff on just two separate occasions, both of which came during his rookie season with the Rays five years ago.

The Red Sox will be facing off against left-hander Ryan Yarbrough to kick off a three-game series against the division-leading Rays on Monday. Motter is a lifetime .197/.275/.283 hitter when matched up against southpaw.

Prior to joining the Sox last week, the versatile 31-year-old had enjoyed a productive season at the plate with Triple-A Albuquerque before having his contract selected by the Rockies in early August.

In 67 games with the Isotopes, Motter slashed an impressive .335/.460/.759 slash line to go along with 16 doubles, one triple, 24 home runs, 57 RBI, 54 runs scored, 49 walks, and 49 strikeouts across 265 total trips to the plate. That includes going 25-for-60 (.417) against lefties.

“Just get a pitch, hit it in the air and give us a lead,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) when asked about his decision to bat Motter leadoff. “He put two good at-bats yesterday. He was having a great season in Triple A. I was watching video. I think his swing should play against Yarbrough. … He might get three at-bats against the lefty, give us a boost and get us going.”

Through his first two games with Boston, Motter is 0-for-1 with a walk and run scored, though he made a nice play at second base on Sunday in addition to getting picked off at first base in the seventh inning of an 11-5 loss to the Indians.

Motter will be getting the start at second base in Monday’s series opener against Tampa Bay. Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will be lining up behind him, as they will be looking to improve to 5-0 in games ace left-hander Chris Sale starts.

First pitch Monday (Labor Day) is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and ESPN.

(Picture of Taylor Motter: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Jarren Duran comes through with game-winning RBI single as Red Sox halt skid with 3-2 victory over Rays

After wrapping up their first losing month of the season on Tuesday, the Red Sox were able to open the month of September with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night.

Chris Sale, making his fourth start of the season and fourth since returning from Tommy John surgery, was not at his sharpest while going up against his toughest opponent to date, but was still effective nonetheless.

Over six solid innings of work to set a new season-high in that category, Sale surrendered just two runs — both of which were earned on six hits, two walks, and two hit batsman to go along with three strikeouts on the evening.

In addition to that, the Sox gave Sale an early lead to work with in the top half of the second.

Matched up against Rays starter Drew Rasmussen, Alex Verdugo ripped a one-out triple to center field and was promptly driven in on an RBI single off the bat of Christian Vazquez.

Both runs Sale gave up, meanwhile, came on one swing of the bat an inning later, as the veteran left-hander served up a two-run home run to Wander Franco with two outs in the inning.

Besides that one blunder that put Boston in a 2-1 hole, Sale managed to maneuver his way around some traffic on the base paths to the point where he kept the Tampa Bay offense off the board over his final three innings pitched.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 95 (57 strikes) to set another season-high, the 32-year-old hurler did not factor into Wednesday’s decision, though this particular outing may be his most encouraging of the season thus far.

Moments after Sale’s outing came to an end, Vazquez continued to build on his productive night at the plate by demolishing a one-out, 389-foot solo shot off Rays reliever and former teammate Collin McHugh on the very first pitch he saw in the top of the seventh.

Vazquez’s sixth big fly of the season pulled the Red Sox even with the Rays at two runs apiece, and the score would remain that way for quite some time.

In relief of Sale, Garrett Whitlock got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen to begin things in the seventh and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Joey Wendle.

Wendle proceeded to advance to third on a fly out to center field, but also attempted to score from third on a sharply-hit ground ball to the left side of the infield off the bat of Randy Arozarena.

Rafael Devers, however, had different plans, as he — with the help from Vazquez behind the plate — gunned down Wendle at home to preserve the stalemate.

In the eighth, Whitlock was put into just about the exact same situation when he yielded another leadoff double to Franco, who moved up to third on a groundout.

Once more, though, the Rays’ base running bailed out the Red Sox, as Franco attempted to score on a grounder from Manuel Margot, but was instead thrown out at home by shortstop Jonathan Arauz.

Having halted Tampa Bay’s momentum in two consecutive innings, the Boston bats broke out in their half of the ninth, where Devers proved to be the catalyst by lacing a leadoff single off Pete Fairbanks.

Devers was able to move up into scoring position on an infield single from a hustling Verdugo, ultimately putting the potential go-ahead run at second base with two outs for Jarren Duran.

Duran, at that point, was 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts, but came through when it mattered most by sneaking an RBI single through the right side of the infield to bring in Devers from second to make it a 3-2 game.

Given a brand-new one-run lead to protect, Adam Ottavino got the call for the ninth, and he shut the door on the Rays by retiring the side in order to notch his 11th save of the season and secure the 3-2 victory for the Sox.

With the win, the Red Sox snap their three-game losing streak to improve to 76-59 on the season as well as 4-0 in games started by Sale. Their lead over the Athletics for the second American League Wild Card spot also increased to two full games.

Next up: Rodriguez vs. McClanahan

The Red Sox will send left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound on Thursday as they look to head back to Boston having secured a four-game series split with their division rivals.

The Rays, meanwhile, will turn to fellow southpaw Shane McClanahan, who will be making his 21st start of the season for Tampa Bay.

First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network.

(Picture of Jarren Duran: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández has been red-hot at the plate for Double-A Portland

After a torrid month of July, Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez got his August off to a solid start for Double-A Portland on Sunday.

Though the Sea Dogs ultimately fell to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats by a final score of 7-6 at Hadlock Field, Hernandez certainly did his part to prevent that from happening.

Starting at designated hitter and batting out of the six-hole, the 23-year-old went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and two runs scored on the afternoon.

The tw0-run homer, which came off Fisher Cats reliever Graham Spraker, was Hernandez’s 11th big fly of the year and it cut Portland’s deficit down to two runs at 7-5. Tanner Nishikoa followed with a solo shot of his own to make it a one-run game, but New Hampshire was ultimately able to hold and take the series finale in a close contest.

Hernandez’s two-hit outing raised his batting line on the season to a respectable .252/.296/.467 (103 wRC+) to go along with 12 doubles, 11 home runs, 25 RBI, 24 runs scored, eight strikeouts across 59 games (223 plate appearances) on the year.

The Red Sox originally acquired Hernandez — as well as infield prospect Nick Sogard — from the Rays back in February in exchange for relievers Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs as well as cash considerations.

Hernandez, who does not turn 24 until November, signed with Tampa Bay for $225,000 as an international free agent out of Colombia during the 2014 signing period.

After five years in the organization, the Rays added Hernandez to their 40-man roster in November 2019 in order to protect him from that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, though he did not play another game in their system after that (but spent time on the club’s taxi squad and postseason player pool) with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since he was a member of Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster at the time of the four-player trade from this past February, Hernandez immediately joined Boston’s 40-man roster and received an invite to major-league spring training as a result.

The right-handed hitting backstop was optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in early March and later began the 2021 minor-league campaign with Portland.

Through his first several weeks as a member of the Sea Dogs, Hernandez — for the most part struggled — as he hit just .210/.248/.384 (67 wRC+) over 138 trips to the plate from the beginning of May until the end of June.

As soon as the calendar flipped to July, however, Hernandez seemed to turn a corner offensively, and it started with a three-hit performance against the Fisher Cats in Manchester on July 4.

Over the next four weeks, Hernandez simply lit it up at the plate. In five games between the Reading Fightin Phils from July 13-18, he amassed a total of eight hits while boasting an OPS of 1.318 thanks to putting together three multi-hit outings.

By the time the month of July came to a close over the weekend, not only had Hernandez not been traded, but he also posted a stellar .324/.378/.588 slash line (158 wRC+) in addition to clubbing four homers, driving in 13 runs, and scoring 11 of his own over his last 22 games and 68 plate appearances dating back to July 1.

Among Double-A Northeast catchers with at least 50 at-bats over the course of July, Hernandez ranked first in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, tied-first in hits (22), second in doubles (6), tied-second in home runs, and second in RBI.

On the other side of the ball, it appears as though Hernandez still has room to develop when it comes to what he does defensively. So far this season, the 6-foot-1, 237 pound backstop has committed six errors while allowing 10 passed balls to elude him while behind the plate. He has also thrown out 13 of 49 (26.5%) runners attempting to steal off him.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “Hernandez has a plus arm behind the plate and moves well for a big catcher, but his receiving is fringe-average and needs to continue to improve.”

Regarded by Baseball America as the No. 13 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks tops among catchers in the system, Hernandez is currently one of four backstops on the Sox’ 40-man roster alongside veterans like Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki and fellow prospect Connor Wong.

Given his standing on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, one has to wonder if Hernandez could be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Worcester before season’s end if he continues to produce at a consistent level.

Not only would promoting Hernandez to the WooSox give the Red Sox a chance to evaluate how the young backstop adjusts to a new level of competition and new pitching staff, it would also grant them the opportunity to see if Hernandez is worthy of his 40-man spot, or if it would be better suited for another prospect in need of protection from December’s Rule 5 Draft.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox swept by Rays following 3-2 defeat; Boston extends losing streak to season-high 4 straight games

After Xander Bogaerts essentially described Sunday night’s series finale against the Rays as a must-win, the Red Sox came up short at Tropicana Field and were unable to avoid a three-game series sweep at the hands of their division rivals by a final score of 3-2.

Nick Pivetta, making his 21st start of the season for the Sox, took a perfect game into the third inning after sitting down each of the first eight batters he faced in order.

A two-out walk to the Rays’ No. 9 hitter in the bottom of the third, however, altered the course for Pivetta, as he saw his no-hit bid come to an end moments later by serving up a two-run home run to Brandon Lowe on a 3-2, 85 mph slider that was grooved down the heart of the plate.

Lowe’s blast put Tampa Bay up 2-0, but the Boston bats were able to cut that deficit in half in the top of the fourth. There, when matched up against tough Rays starter Shane McClanahan, ex-Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe put a charge into his 16th big fly of the year.

Renfroe turned around a 2-2, 97 mph fastball from McClanahan and deposited it 427 feet to deep center field. The solo shot, which had an exit velocity of 104 mph, made it a 2-1 game in favor of the Rays.

The Sox had a chance to do more damage in the inning, with Christian Vazquez ripping a one-out single and Alex Verdugo advancing him into scoring position by drawing a walk, but McClanahan rallied by getting Kevin Plawecki to fly out and Bobby Dalbec to strike out to escape the jam.

Pivetta, meanwhile, got through a scoreless fourth inning unscathed, but ran into more trouble in the fifth when he yielded a leadoff single to rookie phenom Wander Franco.

A wild pitch from the right-hander allowed Franco to move up to second base, and old friend Manuel Margot took full advantage of that miscue by lacing a run-scoring single to right field to bring in Franco and make it a 3-1 contest in favor of his side.

Following that sequence, Pivetta was able to record the first two outs of the fifth, but his night ended then and there when Red Sox manager Alex Cora gave him the hook with the left-handed hitting Lowe due up next for the Rays.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 76 (54 strikes), the 28-year-old hurler wound up surrendering three earned runs on three hits, one walk, and six strikeouts.

In relief of Pivetta, left-hander Josh Taylor was called upon to face Lowe, and he won that particular matchup by getting him to pop out into foul territory to retire the side.

From there, recently-acquired reliever Hansel Robles made his Red Sox debut in the sixth inning, and he maneuvered his way around a leadoff single by inducing a fielder’s choice out and 3-6-3 double play in his lone scoreless frame of work.

The Rays turned to their bullpen starting in the seventh after McClanahan had given them six strong innings, and Verdugo greeted their first reliever of the night — Drew Rasmussen — by lining a scorching 111 mph double down the right field line to lead things off.

Verdugo moved up to third on a Plawecki fly out and scored on a wild pitch while Kiké Hernández, but even after Hernández himself singled and Rafael Devers drew a walk with two outs, a slumping J.D. Martinez was unable to bring in either runner and instead grounded into a force out to leave things at 3-2 in favor of Tampa Bay.

Following two scoreless innings of relief from Garrett Whitlock in which he scattered three total hits thanks to some stellar defense behind him out of the bullpen, the Red Sox were down to their final three outs going into their half of the ninth inning.

With righty reliever Matt Wisler on the mound for the Rays, Plawecki and Jarren Duran (pinch-hitting for Dalbec) grounded out and punched out, respectively. But Hernández provided a spark by reaching base on a two-out single.

The pinch-running Jonathan Arauz took over for Hernández as the base runner at first base, and Devers was able to advance him all the way up to third on another base hit to center field, leaving things in the hands of Martinez.

Very much in need of a hit, Martinez got ahead in the count against Wisler at 3-1, but swung at an outside pitch that likely would have been a ball before putting an 81 mph slider that was down and away in play.

Unfortunately for Martinez, the ball left his bat at just 71 mph and traveled a mere 226 feet before landing in the glove of Margot for the third and final out of the ninth, thus sealing a 3-2 defeat for the Sox.

In the process of getting swept by the Rays on Sunday night, the Red Sox went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position while leaving 10 men on base as a team.

Sunday’s loss also extends Boston’s losing streak to a season-high four consecutive games, dropping them to 63-44 on the year. They now trail Tampa Bay by 1 1/2 games for first place in the American League East after what was undoubtedly a crushing weekend.

That said, the Red Sox will be off on Monday as they prepare to embark upon the next portion of this three-city road trip in Detroit against a surprising 51-57 Tigers team led by Cora’s former colleague in A.J. Hinch.

Boston previously bested Detroit by taking the opening and concluding games of a three-game set at Fenway Park back in early May. The Sox outscored the Tigers, 28-22, in the process of doing so.

This time around, right-hander Garrett Richards will get the ball for Boston in Tuesday’s series opener at Comerica Park. He will be opposed by fellow righty Wily Peralta for Detroit.

First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN. Red Sox will be looking to snap this four-game skid.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Martín Pérez gives up 3 homers as Red Sox fall to Rays, 7-3, in first game after trade deadline

Hours after seeing the trade deadline come and go without acquiring a starting pitcher, the Red Sox were rocked by the Rays by a final score of 7-3 at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

Martin Perez, making his 21st start of the season for the Sox, was shelled for six runs — all of which were earned — on seven hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts over four innings of work.

The one walk proved to be what did Perez in out of the gate, as he issued a two-out free pass to Austin Meadows before serving up a two-run home run to Yandy Diaz in the first inning, giving Tampa Bay an early 2-0 lead.

More two-out trouble arose for Perez in the bottom half of the third, with the veteran left-hander nearly maneuvering his way around a one-out single to Nelson Cruz, but instead gave up a two-out base hit to Diaz, which was followed by a two-run double off the bat of rookie phenom Wander Franco.

The Boston bats, matched up against Rays starter Josh Fleming, battled back in the fourth, as Xander Bogaerts led things off with a groundball single and came into score his side’s first run of the night following a Hunter Renfroe walk and Christian Vazquez RBI single.

Vazquez, however, was thrown out as second base as he attempted to extend his single into a double, though Bobby Dalbec was able to drive in Renfroe to cut the Sox’ deficit in half at 4-2.

Despite cutting into the Rays’ lead, Perez fell victim to the long ball once more in the bottom of the fourth, as he served up a pair of solo homers to Mike Zunino and Randy Arozarena before recording the final out of the inning in what had become a 6-2 game.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 72 (45 strikes), the 30-year-old southpaw was ultimately hit with his seventh loss of the year while seeing his ERA on the season inflate to 4.56.

Another run-scoring double courtesy of Renfroe off Fleming pulled Boston back to within three runs in their half of the fifth, but Red Sox reliever Yacksel Rios gave that run right back by giving up a one-out triple to Franco that was followed by a wild pitch that allowed Franco to easily score and make it a 7-3 contest in favor of Tampa Bay.

From there, Rios tossed a scoreless sixth inning, Hirokazu Sawamura stranded a pair of runners in the seventh in his return from the injured list, and Josh Taylor twirled a shutout bottom of the eighth to hold the Rays at seven runs.

That said, the Sox offense was not able to get anything going against the Rays bullpen, and 7-3 would go on to be Friday’s final score.

With the loss, their second straight, the Red Sox fall to 63-42 on the season while their lead over the Rays for first place in the American League East decreased to just 1/2 a game.

Some additional notes from Friday night:

Next up: Eovaldi vs. Yarbrough

The Red Sox will turn to right-hander Nathan Eovaldi as they look to halt their two-game losing streak in the middle game of this pivotal three-game weekend series.

The Rays will counter with left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who has allowed 14 runs (11 earned) over seven innings of work spanning two outings (one start) against the Sox this season.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Martin Perez: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Wander Franco, baseball’s top prospect, to be called up by Rays ahead of this week’s series against Red Sox

The top prospect in baseball will most likely be making his major-league debut against the Red Sox this week.

That’s right, the Tampa Bay Rays will be calling up infield prospect Wander Franco ahead of Tuesday’s series opener against the Sox at Tropicana Field, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin.

Franco, 20, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect in Major League Baseball and has been for the last two seasons.

Originally signing with the Rays out of the Dominican Republic for $3.85 million in the early stages of the 2017 international signing period, the switch-hitting infielder has since emerged as one of the game’s top young talents while being compared to the likes of the Indians’ Jose Ramirez and Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

This season alone, Franco has lit it up with Triple-A Durham, slashing .315/.367/.586 with 11 doubles, six triples, seven home runs, 35 RBI, 30 runs scored, 12 walks, 21 strikeouts, and five stolen bases over 39 games played (177 plate appearances).

Listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Franco is a natural shortstop, but has also seen time at both second and third base with Durham this year and is likely to move around the infield when he joins the Rays as well.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, Franco “is an exceptionally advanced hitter for his age. The switch-hitter’s compact, level stroke and above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate grant him a controlled aggression most young hitters can’t match. His bat control allows him to make consistent hard contact while rarely striking out. He also has an innate ability to adjust his swing, leaving few holes for pitchers to attack. Franco stings the ball and has plus power potential, but his level swing leads to more line drives and ground balls than fly balls. He has shown in team competitions that he can put on a show in a home run derby. Franco’s body has already filled out. He is an average runner who will have to work to keep his speed with a thick, muscular lower half.

“Defensively, Franco’s soft hands, above-average arm and solid understanding of the game give him a shot to stay at shortstop, where he’s a potentially average defender. The Rays played him at second base and third base at the alternate site [last year] to help prepare for the possibility he could break into the majors at another spot. He has the tools to be an above-average or even plus defender at second or third.”

Assuming Franco, whose father and two older brothers played in the minors while two of his uncles — Erick and Willy Aybar — played in the majors, does make his big-league debut at the Trop this week, this will be the second time in four seasons the Rays have debuted one of their top prospects when going up against the Red Sox.

Back on May 22, 2018, shortstop Willy Adames, then Tampa Bay’s No. 2 overall prospect according to Baseball America, also made his major-league debut when the Sox were in town in St. Petersburg.

Adames, who is still just 25 years old, has since been dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers. That trade took place as recently as last month, with the Rays presumably making the move with the future of Franco in mind.

The Rays themselves have been on a bit of a tailspin of late, as they have dropped six straight to fall a half game back of the Red Sox for first place in the American League East.

Boston and Tampa Bay open up a three-game series in St. Pete on Tuesday night, and the likelihood of such a highly-touted prospect such as Franco making his long-awaited debut just adds more value to what should be a riveting week of baseball for both clubs.

(Picture of Wander Franco: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Nathan Eovaldi puts together ‘amazing’ performance against Rays on Wednesday to finish off three-game sweep; ‘We needed that,’ Alex Cora says

Of the four starts Nathan Eovaldi made for the Red Sox over the course of spring training, his outing against the Rays in Fort Myers was undoubtedly his worst one.

Over four innings of work back on March 19, the veteran right-hander surrendered five earned runs on eight hits, one walk, and five strikeouts.

It may have just been a meaningless Grapefruit League game, but the lessons Eovaldi learned from that performance last month proved to be worthwhile during his second start of the regular season on Wednesday.

Working against the Rays at Fenway Park this time around, the 31-year-old dazzled by yielding just one earned run on three hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts on the afternoon. He needed just 91 pitches (60 strikes) to get through those seven frames.

“[Kevin] Plawecki and I had a good game plan going into it,” Eovaldi said when asked about his impressive showing against his former team on Wednesday. “We were able to follow up with everything, try to keep them off balance. In spring training, I learned a lot when they got to me early in the game. So I had to really mix my pitches today, and I was able to do that.”

Of the 91 pitches Eovaldi threw on Wednesday, 35 were four-seam fastballs, 20 were curveballs, 19 were sliders, nine were cutters, and eight were splitters. He induced 17 swings-and-misses from Rays hitters in total.

“I didn’t really have one pitch that wasn’t working,” added Eovaldi. “I was able to use the curveball, the slider — I used that a lot today, the cutter, splitty was good. I was able to locate the fastball. I made some mechanical adjustments the other day and they really helped me out. So I feel really good out there.”

With the Red Sox finishing off a three-game sweep of the Rays on Wednesday, Eovaldi was able to pick up his first winning decision and improve to 1-1 on the young season.

That Eovaldi was able to go seven innings in his second start of the year proved to be crucial for the Sox considering how spent their bullpen was following Tuesday night’s 6-5 win over Tampa Bay that took 12 innings to complete.

“We needed that,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “The fact that he only threw 91 pitches, it was very important. But he went seven. Where we were pitching-wise today, we needed a big performance from him, and he did.”

Eovaldi himself echoes this same sort of sentiment in regards to picking up a depleted pitching staff the day after a lengthy game.

“The way we started the season 0-3 against the Orioles, obviously we’re not happy with that,” Eovaldi said. “But then to come in, last night was a huge game for us. We were able to come back from behind, tie it up in the late innings, ultimately win the game. Both sides of the bullpen, we were down. So we were short on guys.

“For me to be able to come out there today, go a little deeper in the game for us, and then for us to come out on top today, have the sweep — especially against the Rays — it’s a big one for us,” he added. “Big series win.”

Through his first two starts of the year, the Houston-area native has allowed just two earned runs over his first 12 1/3 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 1.46 as well as a 0.89 WHIP.

“He was amazing,” Cora said of Eovaldi. “He’s got two starts already. He’s done an amazing job mixing up pitches, throwing strikes. The fact he only made like 92 [pitches] in the first one, [91 pitches] today. Now he gets one more day in between starts. That’s really good for him.”

Eovaldi is slated to pitch again against the Twins in Minnesota next Tuesday.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)