Red Sox score early, but not often in 5-2 loss to Rays

The Red Sox dropped the finale of their three-game weekend series against the Rays at Tropicana Field on Sunday. Boston fell to Tampa Bay in the rubber match by a final score of 5-2, marking their fourth loss in their last five games to drop to 7-9 on the season.

Both runs the Sox scored on Sunday came right away in the first inning off Rays starter Shane McClanahan. Trevor Story led off with a hard-hit double and immediately scored on a groundball single off the bat of Enrique Hernandez. Xander Bogaerts advanced Hernandez into scoring position and Alex Verdugo brought him in on an RBI single of his own.

So, on nine pitches, the Red Sox found themselves in possession of an early 2-0 lead to give Rich Hill a nice cushion out of the gate. Hill, making his third start of the year and first since returning to the bereavement list, managed to keep the Rays off the scoreboard while scattering four hits, three walks, and one hit batsman to go along with one strikeout over four innings of work.

Rob Refsnyder, starting in right field, aided Hill in the second inning when he gunned down Randy Arozarena, who was trying to stretch a two-out single into a two-out double, at second base for the final out of the frame.

Hill finished his day retiring five of the final eight batters he faced. 35 of the 62 pitches the left-hander threw went for strikes.

Before first pitch on Sunday, it was expected that Tanner Houck would piggyback off of Hill since Boston cannot use the right-hander during their series in Toronto. Rather than have Houck take the mound in the fifth, however, acting manager Will Venable first turned to Phillips Valdez out of the bullpen.

Valdez, in turn, recorded just one out while loading the bases on one walk and two hit batsman. Ryan Brasier then came on and allowed all three of the runners he inherited to score on a two-run double from Ji-Man Choi and RBI groundout from Manuel Margot that gave Tampa Bay their first lead of the day at 3-2.

Matt Barnes got the call for the sixth inning and yielded back-to-back one-out singles to Kevin Kiermaier and Arozarena. Kiermaier, the hero of Saturday’s contest, moved up to third on a Wander Franco groundout. Following a pitching change that saw Jake Diekman take over for Barnes, the speedy outfielder scored on a wild pitch to make it a 4-2 game.

Diekman remained in the game in the seventh and served up a solo home run to Yandy Diaz that gave the Rays a 5-2 edge. It was not until later in the inning when Houck finally emerged and sat down the only five hitters he faced in order to keep the three-run deficit intact at the end of eight.

Down to their final three outs of the ninth, Verdugo, Bobby Dalbec, and Travis Shaw went down in order against Ryan Thompson to seal a 5-2 defeat for the Red Sox.

Next up: On to Toronto

The Red Sox will board a flight to Toronto while leaving unvaccinated players such as Houck behind to open a four-game series against the Blue Jays on Monday night.

In the opener, it will be right-hander Nathan Eovaldi getting the ball for Boston and fellow righty Jose Berrios doing the same for Toronto.

First pitch from Rogers Centere is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Red Sox break up no-hitter in 10th inning, then get walked off on by Kevin Kiermaier in wild 3-2 loss to Rays

The Red Sox delivered a late birthday present to Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier on Saturday night. Kiermaier, who turned 32 on Friday, crushed a two-run walk-off home run off Hansel Robles in the 10th inning to lift Tampa Bay to a stunning 3-2 win over Boston at Tropicana Field.

With the loss, the Sox fall to 7-8 on the season. They have not won consecutive ballgames since April 16-17.

Garrett Whitlock, making his first start and fifth overall appearance of the year, absolutely dominated the Rays’ lineup. In what was his first career big-league start, the right-hander yielded just one hit and no walks to go along with seven strikeouts over four scoreless, near-perfect innings of work.

After taking a perfect game into the fourth inning, Whitlock gave up a leadoff double to Brandon Lowe. He then stranded Lowe at second base by retiring the final three batters he faced in order. The 25-year-old finished with a final pitch count of 48 (33 strikes) and turned to his sinker 58% of the time he was on the mound.

In relief of Whitlock, Austin Davis received the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen from acting manager Will Venable. The left-hander maneuvered his way around a two-out walk in an otherwise clean frame before making way for Kutter Crawford, who twirled three scoreless innings of his own while striking out five.

Tyler Danish walked the first batter he faced in the ninth to put the potential winning run on base, but left him there to send this 0-0 game into extra innings.

To that point in the contest, the Red Sox lineup had been no-hit by six different Rays pitchers in J.P. Feyereisen, Javy Guerra, Jeffrey Springs, Jason Adam, Ryan Thompson, and Andrew Kittredge. They reached base six times over that stretch via five walks and a fielding error, but were unable to do anything with those base runners.

In the top of the 10th, Matt Wisler took over for Kittredge and Jackie Bradley Jr. became the automatic runner at second base. On the third pitch he saw from Wisler, an 0-2 slider, Bobby Dalbec came through in the clutch by lacing an RBI triple down the right field line.

Dalbec’s 322-foot foot triple left his bat at 97.1 mph. It also provided the Sox with their first hit of the night and drove in Bradley Jr. to give them a late 1-0 lead. Dalbec then scored on a Christian Vazquez sacrifice fly to double that advantage to 2-0.

That sequence led to Venable going with Robles in the bottom half of the 10th. With Randy Arozarena at second base and the potential tying run at the plate, Robles fanned Ji-Man Choi and Josh Lowe for the first two outs of the inning.

A balk from Robles allowed Arozarena to advance to third. With the Rays down to their final out, Taylor Walls reached base on a throwing error committed by Trevor Story and Arozarena scored to cut Tampa Bay’s deficit to one.

Robles then fell behind in the count against Kiermaier and served up the game-winning, two-run homer on a 96 mph four-seamer down the heart of the plate. Kiermaier deposited it 372 feet into the right field seats to send the Rays home with a come-from-behind victory.

Next up: Hill vs. McClanahan in rubber match

Despite losing in heartbreaking fashion, the Red Sox still have a chance to win this three-game series against the Rays on Sunday afternoon. Boston will turn to left-hander Rich Hill as he makes his return from the bereavement list in the series finale. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, will roll with fellow southpaw Shane McClanahan.

First pitch from Tropicana Field is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Hansel Robles and Kevin Kiermaier: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Rob Refsnyder to make Red Sox debut on Saturday

Rob Refsnyder will make his Red Sox debut as they go up against the Rays at Tropicana Field on Saturday night. He will bat ninth while serving as Boston’s designated hitter.

The Red Sox selected Refsnyder from Triple-A Worcester and added him to the active roster this past Tuesday, the same day in which catcher Christian Vazquez and infielder Jonathan Arauz were placed on the COVID-19 related injured list after they both tested positive for the virus.

Refsnyder, 31, originally signed a minor-league deal with the Sox back in December. After being informed he would not be making the big-league club out of spring training, the veteran outfielder accepted an assignment to Worcester.

Prior to getting called up earlier this week, Refsnyder had been enjoying a nice start to his 2022 season with the WooSox. The right-handed hitter batted .400/.551/.600 to go along with four doubles, one home run, eight RBIs, 12 runs scored, one stolen base, nine walks, and eight strikeouts across his first 11 games (49 plate appearances) with the affiliate.

A former fifth-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2013, Refsnyder comes with plenty of major-league experience. He most-recently posted a .663 OPS in 51 games with the Twins last year while making appearances at all three outfield positions.

While he has proven to be more effective against left-handed pitching over the course of his career, Refsynder will be matched up against Rays right-hander J.P. Feyereisen to begin things on Saturday. J.D. Martinez remains out of Boston’s lineup as he continues to recover from left adductor tightness.

Tropicana Field should be a familiar venue for Refsnyder, who spent a good chunk of the 2018 campaign with the Rays. In 64 career plate appearances at the Trop, Refsnyder owns a lifetime .216/.365/.275 slash line with three doubles and one RBI.

As noted by Red Sox Stats on Twitter, Refsnyder will be the first Boston player to start at designated hitter and bat out of the nine-hole since Kevin Plawecki did so last April.

First pitch between the 7-7 Red Sox and 7-7 Rays on Saturday is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Rob Refsnyder: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Garrett Whitlock to make first career start for Red Sox on Saturday

Garrett Whitlock will make his first career start for the Red Sox when they go up against the Rays on Saturday, acting manager Will Venable told reporters at Tropicana Field on Friday evening.

Rich Hill, who has been on the bereavement list since his father, Lloyd, passed away last week, was originally slated to start Saturday’s contest. The Red Sox, however, opted to move Hill’s start to Sunday so that the left-hander could get an extra day of rest after being away from the team to attend his father’s services over the last few days.

With Hill’s spot in the rotation becoming vacant, Boston decided it would be best to have Whitlock fill in for the veteran southpaw on Saturday night.

Since coming over from the Yankees in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, Whitlock has only been used by the Sox as a reliever. So far this season, the right-hander has posted a miniscule 0.93 ERA and 2.74 FIP to go along with 11 strikeouts to two walks across four appearances spanning 9 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.

On Saturday, the plan will be for Whitlock to throw three or four innings, as he will only be working on three days rest. Though it will be his first time doing it at the big-league level, starting games is nothing new for the 25-year-old, who made a total of 38 starts over three seasons (2017-2019) in the Yankees organization.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, the Red Sox view Whitlock as a starter in the long-term. They made that much clear when they signed the righty to a four-year extension earlier this month that includes escalators based on the number of innings he pitches.

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Rich Hill returns and Bobby Dalbec stays hot as Red Sox top Rays, 4-2, to improve to 6-0 this spring

The Red Sox are nearly a week into their Grapefruit League schedule and have yet to lose a game. They improved to 6-0 this spring with a 4-2 victory over the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Rich Hill made his 2022 debut against one of his former teams on Tuesday. Vying for a spot in Boston’s Opening Day starting rotation, the veteran left-hander scattered two hits and one walk to go along with two strikeouts over two scoreless innings of work.

Shortly after Hill retired each of the final three batters he faced, the Sox jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over the Rays in the third inning when a red-hot Bobby Dalbec scored Jonathan Arauz and Christian Arroyo on a two-run double to left field off reliever Adrian De Horta.

That paved the way for Garrett Whitlock to come on in relief of Hill beginning in the bottom of the third. Also making his first appearance of the spring, the righty escaped a bases-loaded jam in his first inning of work before stranding two more base runners in a scoreless bottom of the fourth.

Matt Barnes continued the trend of Red Sox pitchers making their 2022 debuts on Tuesday. Looking to re-establish himself as Boston’s closer, the hard-throwing righty sat down Curtis Mead, Yandy Diaz, and Ji-Man Choi in order in the fifth inning.

Non-roster invitee Taylor Cole followed suit by working around a bases-loaded jam of his own in the bottom of the sixth, while his catcher — Ronaldo Hernandez — drove in Christian Koss on an RBI single in the top of the seventh to give his side a 3-0 lead.

Geoff Hartlieb gave two of those runs back immediately when he served up a two-run home run to Ruben Cardenas a half-inning later, but outfielder Wil Dalton provided some insurance by leading things off in the eighth with a solo blast off Jack Labosky.

That sequence made it a 4-2 game for Austin Davis, who entered out of the Boston bullpen in the eighth inning and closed things out to record the save and secure a two-run win for the Red Sox.

All told, it was another decent day for Boston pitching. Despite allowing 10 hits and issuing five walks as a team, six different Sox pitchers (Hill, Whitlock, Barnes, Cole, Hartlieb, and Davis) combined to surrender just two runs while striking out 12.

Dalbec, meanwhile, is batting .444/.500/1.222 with one double, two home runs, seven RBIs, and two runs scored through his first four games (10 plate appearances) of the spring.

As they improve to 6-0 this spring, the Red Sox have outscored their opponents 34-11 in Grapefruit League play thus far.

Next up: Winder vs. Eovaldi

The Red Sox will take on the Twins in the third installment of the Chairman’s Cup. Boston currently leads Minnesota two games-to-none heading into Wednesday’s contest at JetBlue Park.

Nathan Eovaldi will make his second start of the spring for the Sox, and he will be opposed by fellow right-hander Josh Winder for the Twins. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time. The game will be televised on NESN.

(Picture of Bobby Dalbec: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Potential Red Sox target Collin McHugh signs with Braves

Former Red Sox reliever Collin McHugh will not be taking his talents back to Boston this year. The free agent right-hander has instead signed a two-year deal with the Braves, the club announced on Tuesday evening.

Per a team release, McHugh’s contract includes $10 million in guaranteed money. The 34-year-old will earn $4 million this season and an additional $5 million in 2023. There is also a $6 million club option for 2024 that comes with a $1 million buyout.

A veteran of nine major-league seasons, McHugh originally signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in March 2020 after a successful six-year stint with the Astros. At that time, however, the righty was still recovering from a Tenex procedure he underwent the previous December to treat a flexor strain in his elbow.

After the COVID-19 shutdown halted spring training and delayed the start of the 2020 campaign, McHugh reported to Fenway Park for summer camp but ultimately opted out of the season altogether since he was not progressing well from his elbow procedure.

The Rays then signed McHugh to another one-year deal last February and he made the most of it. Despite multiple trips to the injured list in 2021, the 6-foot-2, 191 pound hurler still bounced back by posting a 1.55 ERA and 2.12 FIP with 74 strikeouts to 12 walks over 37 appearances (seven starts) spanning 64 innings of work for Tampa Bay.

On the heels of such an effective campaign, McHugh was seen as a viable free agent target for the Red Sox since he is undoubtedly familiar with the organization and can pitch in a variety of roles.

As recently as last Friday, MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo reported that the Sox were indeed “among the teams with interest” in McHugh. How interested Boston was in McHugh remains unclear, but it obviously was not enough in the end for any sort of reunion.

While chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. will now have to continue to look elsewhere for bullpen help, McHugh is heading back to his home state of Georgia to pitch for the team he grew up watching.

(Picture of Collin McHugh: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Red Sox infield prospect Nick Sogard joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox infield prospect Nick Sogard.

Sogard, 24, was traded from the Rays to the Red Sox last February alongside catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez. The switch-hitting infielder spent the 2021 season between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland and batted .276/.346/.461 with 13 home runs, 42 RBIs, and eight stolen bases over 80 games.

Among the topics Nick and I discussed are how he found about the trade and his initial reaction to it, his relationship with his older cousin Eric Sogard, what he thought of his 2021 season, his defensive versatility, the key differences in the level of competition between High-A and Double-A, going back-and-forth between the two levels, how he spent part of his off-season in Nashville, what he has made of spring training in Fort Myers so far, getting to work with Alex Cora a little bit, his expectations for the 2022 season, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

My thanks to Nick for taking some time out of his spring schedule to have a conversation with yours truly. You can follow Nick on Twitter (@NickSogard22) by clicking here and on Instagram (@Nick_Sogard) by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Nick Sogard: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

After rough 2020 season with Red Sox, Dylan Covey enjoyed success in Taiwan in 2021

Remember when Dylan Covey was one of 27 pitchers the Red Sox used during a dismal 2020 season that only consisted of 60 games?

A former fourth-round pick of the Oakland Athletics who broke in with the White Sox in 2017, Covey was effectively released by Chicago leading up to the 2020 season and inked a minor-league deal with the Rays shortly thereafter.

On the other side of the COVID-19-induced shutdown that placed a freeze on transactions across Major League Baseball, the Rays traded Covey to the Red Sox in late July.

The right-hander was initially optioned to Boston’s alternate training site, but wound up making the club’s Opening Day roster. He made his Red Sox debut against the Orioles on July 25 and was then sent back down to Pawtucket the following day.

On August 8, Covey was recalled from the alternate training site, paving the way for him to make three more appearances out of the Sox’ bullpen before getting optioned eight days later.

Fast forward nearly four weeks, and Covey’s name was called upon once again. He closed out the shortened campaign on Boston’s big-league roster and made four final relief appearances in the process of doing so.

All told, Covey posted a 7.07 ERA — yet a much more respectable 3.91 FIP — to go along with 11 strikeouts to just two walks over eight outings spanning 14 total innings of work in his three stints with the club.

Following the conclusion of the 2020 World Series, the Red Sox outrighted Covey off their 40-man roster, thus allowing the righty to become a free agent since he had already accrued more than three years of major-league service time.

It’s unclear if Covey — a client of CAA Sports — was pursuing big-league opportunities upon hitting the open market, but he ultimately inked a one-year deal with the Rakuten Monkeys of the Chinese Professional Baseball League last May.

Equipped with a five-pitch mix that consists of a slider, four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, and curveball, Covey debuted for Rakuten’s first-team in late August.

In 10 starts for the Monkeys, the 30-year-old put up a 4.01 ERA and 3.14 FIP with 38 strikeouts and 17 walks across 58 1/3 innings pitched. According to CPBLStats.com, he yielded a minuscule 0.84 ERA over his final five starts of the year.

Last month, it was revealed that Rakuten had re-signed Covey to a one-year contract for the upcoming 2022 season, which begins in April.

If Covey — who turns 31 in August — can put together another productive season in Taiwan, it would be fascinating to see if the 6-foot-1, 214 pound hurler could garner enough interest from MLB teams to ponder a return to the United States next winter.

(Picture of Dylan Covey: CPBL Stats)

Should Red Sox pursue reunion with Collin McHugh once lockout ends?

The Red Sox have already signed two pitchers who spent at least part of the 2021 season with the Rays this off-season, so what’s stopping them from going after a third?

Following the additions of Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, the Sox should next turn their attention to Collin McHugh — someone they already have a history with — once the Major League Baseball lockout ends.

Last March, Boston signed McHugh to a one-year deal for the 2020 season a few weeks into spring training. But the veteran right-hander never suited up for the Red Sox.

At the time of his signing, McHugh was approximately three months removed from undergoing a Tenex procedure to treat a flexor strain in his elbow. The COVID-19 pandemic and the league-wide shutdown that followed only prolonged his recovery, and the righty ultimately opted out of the 2020 season in July.

After sitting out all of 2020, McHugh inked another one-year pact with the division rival Rays this past February and enjoyed a nice bounce back in what was his ninth big-league season.

Across 37 appearances (seven starts) for Tampa Bay, the 34-year-old posted a miniscule 1.55 ERA and 2.12 FIP to go along with 74 strikeouts to 12 walks over 64 innings of work in 2021.

Not only was McHugh effective when it came to keeping runs off the board, he was able to do so while limiting hard contact against him. Among the 269 pitchers who accrued at least 60 innings on the mound this year, McHugh ranked fifth in barrel rate (2.5%), eighth in hard-hit rate (28.9%), and sixth in expected ERA (2.26), per FanGraphs.

For as productive as McHugh may have been with the Rays, he did miss some time on account of being placed on the injured list on three separate occasions. From April 18 through May 4, he was sidelined because of a low back strain. From July 25 through August 7, he was sidelined because of arm fatigue.

Despite those injury-related concerns, there was not much McHugh could do wrong in 2021. He did not allow a single run while serving as Tampa Bay’s opener and proved to be effective against left-handed and right-handed hitters alike.

Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-2, 191 pound hurler operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a nasty slider, a cutter, a four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup. Opposing hitters batted just .177 against McHugh’s slider — a pitch he threw nearly 53% of the time — this year.

McHugh, who does not turn 35 until next June, is projected by FanGraphs readers to net himself a one-year, $5 million deal in free agency this winter. The Illinois native can pitch in a variety of roles and can provide multiple innings of relief when needed.

When speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) earlier this month, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom indicated that the club would be aggressive in pursuing bullpen help once MLB’s transaction freeze is lifted.

“We still would like to add more pitching,” said Bloom. “We’ve got some guys who can fill multiple roles. But as far as short relievers, that is something we have yet to address in meaningful fashion. And we’re going to continue to look at doing that.”

Considering that McHugh offers flexibility, would not be too expensive to sign, and is already familiar with the organization, he seems like a free agent the Red Sox should target as soon as they get the opportunity to.

(Picture of Collin McHugh: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

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)