Ex-Red Sox prospect Jhonathan Diaz has chance to help former team in second career start for Angels Saturday night

Former Red Sox prospect Jhonathan Diaz will be making his second career start for the Angels on Saturday night, and he has the opportunity to help out his old team in the process of doing so.

Diaz will get the ball for the Halos as they go up against the Mariners in the second game of a pivotal three-game set at T-Mobile Park with plenty of Wild Card implications at stake.

Los Angeles opened their series against Seattle with a tight 2-1 victory on Friday to drop the Mariners to 89-71 and push them one game back of the Red Sox for the second and final American League Wild Card spot coming into play on Saturday.

Jose Suarez picked up the win for the Angels in the opener of the three-game set, and a fellow left-hander in Diaz will look to do the same in the middle contest.

The 25-year-old originally signed with the Red Sox for $600,000 as an international free-agent out of Venezuela back in July 2013 — the same signing class that Boston landed Rafael Devers.

Signed by the likes of Eddie Romero and Angel Escobar at just 16, Diaz made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League the following summer. He did not pitch in 2015 on account of a knee injury, but made it as far as High-A by the time the 2019 minor-league season came to a close.

At that time, Diaz had put together a 2019 campaign in which he posted a 3.86 ERA and 3.98 xFIP with 118 strikeouts and 54 walks over 27 starts spanning 128 1/3 innings of work for Salem.

The Venezuelan southpaw also made eight appearances in the Arizona Fall League and was likely on track to begin the following season with Double-A Portland.

However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 minor-league season was eventually cancelled in June, leaving Diaz — who did not receive an invite to the Red Sox’ alternate training site — on his own.

With his minor-league contract set to expire, Diaz became a free-agent for the first time last fall, but bounced back on his feet quickly by inking a minors pact with the Angels in late November.

In his first season with a new organization, Diaz opened the 2021 season at Double-A Rocket City, pitched for his native Venezuela in Olympic qualifiers, and returned to Double-A before earning a promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake on August 26.

Over the course of three starts for the Bees, the 6-foot, 170 pound hurler put up a 4.11 ERA, a 4.47 FIP, and a 14:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio before having his contract selected and earning his first big-league call-up on September 17.

Making his major-league debut that same day as a starter, Diaz allowed two runs on two hits, four walks, one hit batsman, and two strikeouts over 1 2/3 innings pitched in an eventual 5-4 loss to the Athletics in Anaheim.

Eight days later, Diaz was called upon to work out of the bullpen this time around against the Mariners. From the third inning on, the lefty tossed seven frames of one-run ball while scattering three hits and one walk to go along with four strikeouts en route to picking up his first-ever major-league win in a 14-1 rout of Seattle.

Per Baseball Savant, Diaz operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a changeup, slider, sinker, curveball, and four-seam fastball. Opposing batters thus far are hitting just .200 off his changeup, .182 off his slider, and .125 off his sinker.

Diaz will be making his first start away from Angel Stadium on Saturday. If he replicates what he did against the Mariners in his last time out, he could be doing the team he began his professional career with a great service.

(Picture of Jhonathan Diaz: John McCoy/Getty Images)

Tanner Houck starting, hitting for himself Saturday as Red Sox go for series victory over Nationals

In their penultimate game of the regular season, the Red Sox will turn to Tanner Houck to start Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Nationals at Nationals Park.

The Sox came into the weekend having not named a starter for Saturday’s game, likely under the assumption that Houck could be needed out of the bullpen on Friday if Eduardo Rodriguez was unable to pitch deep into his final start of the year.

Instead, Rodriguez provided Boston with five-plus scoreless innings before five different relievers (Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Adam Ottavino, and Hansel Robles) combined to close out a much-needed 4-2 win over Washington.

Houck, meanwhile, last appeared in a game this past Tuesday, allowing one earned run on three hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts in a 4-2 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore.

The 25-year-old right-hander needed 41 pitches (27 strikes) to get through those two frames, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters (including The Eagle-Tribune’s Mac Cerullo) that the club will be treating Saturday as a normal start for Houck even though he will be working on just three days rest.

Since making his major-league debut last September, Houck has only pitched in a National League ballpark on two separate occasions — both of which came against the Marlins and Braves during last year’s COVID-shortened campaign.

Major League Baseball adopted the universal designated hitter rule for the 2020 season on account of the pandemic, meaning pitchers in National League ballparks did not have to hit for themselves.

That is no longer the case this year, though, as Houck will step up to the plate for the first time in his big-league career and bat out of the nine-hole for Boston on Saturday.

Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will line up behind Houck as they go up against fellow rookie right-hander Josiah Gray for the Nationals.

First pitch from Nationals Park Saturday is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN. As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “a Red Sox win would mean Boston is guaranteed to play past Sunday, either in a tiebreaker game or the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night. If the Sox win their last two games, they are guaranteed a spot in the Wild Card Game.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Red Sox go down quietly to Orioles, 6-2, resulting in brutal series loss

The Red Sox closed out their month of September — and the American League portion of their regular season schedule — by dropping a crucial series to the last-place Orioles at Camden Yards on Thursday.

Boston fell to Baltimore, 6-2, marking their fifth loss in their last six games and one that will have plenty of Wild Card implications.

Matched up against O’s starter Alexander Wells to begin things on Thursday, the Sox received an early boost from leadoff man Enrique Hernandez, who took the very first pitch he saw in the top half of the first inning — an 84 mph fastball at the top of the zone — and belted it 409 feet over the wall in left-center field.

Hernandez’s 19th home run of the season, and sixth of the leadoff variety, left his bat at 107.1 mph. It also gave Boston an immediate 1-0 lead for Nick Pivetta.

Pivetta, making his 30th start of the season for the Red Sox, came out strong on Thursday, retiring each of the first six Orioles batters he faced (four via the strikeout) in order before running into some trouble in the bottom of the third.

There, the right-hander’s difficulties began when he issued a leadoff walk to Tyler Nevin and promptly spiked a wild pitch while Pat Valaika was at the plate that allowed Nevin to advance up to second base.

Valaika moved Nevin up to third on a hard-hit single and advanced into scoring position himself on another wild pitch from Pivetta that put two runners in scoring position with no outs.

While he did manage to get the first two outs of the inning on a pair of punch outs, Pivetta was unable to get through the third unscathed — as he served up a towering three-run blast to Ryan Mountcastle on a first-pitch, 95 mph heater that saw his side’s 1-0 lead turn into a 3-1 deficit.

After recording the final out of the third and tossing a scoreless fourth inning, Pivetta’s night ultimately came to an end when he yielded a leadoff double to Valaika and got the first two outs of the fifth.

At that point, Red Sox manager Alex Cora opted to intentionally put the dangerous Mountcastle on base, which resulted in him giving Pivetta the hook in favor of Ryan Brasier.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 87 (52 strikes), the 28-year-old hurler wound up allowing a total of three runs (all earned) on four hits and two walks to go along with eight strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings of work.. He was later dealt his eighth losing decision of the season in the process of raising his ERA on the year to 4.56.

In relief of Pivetta, Brasier officially closed the book on the starter’s night by getting Austin Hays to ground into an inning-ending force out at second base.

Garrett Richards took over for Brasier in the sixth, and he gave up a pair of singles to put runners at first and second with one out and spiked a wild pitch that advanced those runners at second and third before giving up a two-run double to Nevin that put the O’s up, 5-1.

Nevin moved up to second base on his single courtesy of a throwing error from Alex Verdugo, and — after being pinch-ran for by Ryan McKenna — advanced to third on yet another wild pitch from Richards.

Baltimore took advantage of Richards’ lack of command when Valaika plated McKenna from third on a sacrifice fly to center field that increased their lead to five runs at 6-1.

Boston was able to get one of those runs back in the top half of the seventh, though they certainly could have gotten more.

J.D. Martinez led things off against newly-inserted Orioles reliever Joey Krehbiel by lacing a line-drive double off the glove of center fielder Cedric Mullins. He, as well as Hunter Renfroe, advanced an additional 90 feet when Verdugo grounded out softly to first base.

With Travis Shaw at the plate pinch-hitting for Kevin Plawecki, Martinez scored from third when one of Krehbiel’s pitches eluded Pedro Severino behind the dish. That made it a 6-2 game.

Renfroe also moved up to third base on Krehbiel’s wild pitch, but went no further than there with Shaw fanning on a foul tip and Jose Iglesias lining out to Mountcastle at first.

After Adam Ottavino worked a scoreless bottom of the seventh with some help from Christian Vazquez — who took over catching duties for Plawecki and promptly threw out his 18th base runner of the season to end the inning, the Sox again had a chance to mount a rally of sorts in the eighth.

Kyle Schwarber drew a one-out walk off Dillon Tate, but a slumping Xander Bogaerts followed by grounding into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

Matt Barnes maneuvered his way around a one-out single in an otherwise clean bottom of the eighth to keep the deficit at four, though Boston was not able to reward him for his efforts.

That being the case because the likes of Rafael Devers, Martinez, Renfroe, and Verdugo went down quietly to wrap up a 6-2 defeat as well as one of the more disappointing series of the year to date.

With the loss, not only do the Red Sox fall to 89-70 on the season, but they also drop to two games back of the Yankees for the top American League Wild Card spot and into a virtual tie with the Mariners for the second and final spot.

The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays on Thursday, while the Mariners had the day off.

Next up: On to D.C.

The Red Sox will make the short trek from Baltimore to the nation’s capital to take on the 65-94 Nationals in their final series of the regular season.

With plenty on the line in regards to postseason hopes and aspirations, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will get the ball for Boston on Friday opposite fellow southpaw Josh Rogers for Washington.

First pitch from Nationals Park Friday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Xander Bogaerts: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Where Red Sox stand in Wild Card race heading into last week of regular season

Following an off day on Monday, the Red Sox (88-68) come into play Tuesday trailing the Yankees (89-67) by one game for the top American League Wild Card spot after getting swept in a three-game series by their division rivals over the weekend.

If the regular season were to have ended on Monday night, the Yankees would be hosting the Sox in the Wild Card Game in the Bronx exactly one week from Tuesday.

But the season did not end on Monday, as both clubs each have six games remaining on their respective schedules between now and Sunday. Both Boston and New York also have two other teams hot on their trails, with the Blue Jays (87-69) currently one game and the Mariners (87-70) currently 1 1/2 games behind the Sox.

The Mariners gained a half-game on the competition in front of them on Monday when they trounced the Athletics by a final score of 13-4 at T-Mobile Park, thus dropping the A’s to 85-72 and putting 3 1/2 games back of the Red Sox to kick off a pivotal three-game set.

While Seattle and Oakland both have five games left this season, all three of New York, Boston, and Toronto have six contests — with the Yankees and Blue Jays set to open yet another crucial three-game series at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.

According to FanGraphs, the Red Sox have an 86% chance to make the postseason, which edges out the Yankees (81%), Blue Jays (27.5%), Mariners (5.5%), and Athletics (0.1%).

Baseball-Reference, meanwhile, gives the Sox a 74.8% chance to reach the playoffs, which ranks tops among the four other clubs they are competing with despite their odds decreasing by 15.2% over the last seven days.

Of the five teams remaining in the Wild Card hunt, Boston has the easiest schedule over the final week of the regular season, per Tankathon.com. That being the case because they will be playing both the lowly Orioles (50-106) and Nationals (65-92) on the road to close out the year.

Taking all that into consideration, there are several scenarios to keep in mind once play begins on Tuesday. Here they are:

If the Red Sox win and the Yankees lose/Blue Jays win: Boston and New York would be tied atop the Wild Card standings, while Toronto would trail both teams by just one game.

If the Red Sox win and the Yankees win/Blue Jays lose: Boston would still trail New York by one full game for the top Wild Card spot, though they would gain an additional game over Toronto for the second Wild Card spot.

If the Red Sox lose and the Yankees lose/Blue Jays win: Boston would still trail New York by one full game for the top Wild Card spot, though they would now be tied with Toronto for possession of the second spot.

If the Red Sox lose and the Yankees win/Blue Jays lose: Boston would now trail New York by two games for the top Wild Card spot, though they would maintain their one-game lead over Toronto for the second spot.

So, at best, the Red Sox can move back into a tie with the Yankees for the top American League Wild Card spot on Tuesday. At worst, they can fall into a tie with the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Nathan Eovaldi gets shelled for 7 runs as Red Sox drop opener of pivotal series to Yankees, 8-3

For the first time in more than five months, the Red Sox lost while wearing their yellow City Connect uniforms in Friday’s series opener against the Yankees at Fenway Park.

Boston was walloped by New York and fell to their division rivals by a final score of 8-3, marking the end of their impressive seven-game winning streak.

Nathan Eovaldi, making his 31st start of the season, was far from sharp while going up against his former team and actually put together one of his worst outings of the year to date.

In just 2 2/3 innings of work, Eovaldi got rocked for seven runs — all of which were earned — on seven hits and two walks to go along with zero strikeouts on the night.

Right from the jump, it was apparent that the veteran right-hander did not have everything going for him on Friday, as evidenced by him striking out none of the 17 batters he faced.

The Yankees got to Eovaldi for three early on, with D.J. LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo ripping a pair of singles to lead off the top half of the first before Aaron Judge plated LeMahieu on a hard-hit RBI double to left-center field that also put runners at second and third base.

Giancarlo Stanton got his productive night at the plate by bringing in Rizzo on a run-scoring groundout, while Gleyber Torres scored Judge on an RBI single back up the middle that gave New York a 3-0 lead.

After retiring the side in order in the second, Eovaldi ran into more trouble in the third, when he yielded a leadoff double to Rizzo, issued a four-pitch walk to Judge, then served up a booming, 386-foot three-run blast that found its way into the Red Sox bullpen.

Eovaldi allowed another single before recording the first two outs of the third, but a seven-pitch walk of Brett Gardner would unofficially mark the end of his evening as he got the hook from Sox manager Alex Cora.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 59 (37 strikes), the 31-year-old hurler induced a total of three swings-and-misses while seeing his ERA on the season inflate to 3.88.

Hirokazu Sawamura got the first call from Cora out of the Boston bullpen, and he promptly got the first batter he faced, Kyle Higashioka to lift a 63-foot flyball to the right side of the pitcher’s mound that should have gone for the final out of the inning.

It instead went for an RBI infield single, as first baseman Kyle Schwarber failed to catch the ball and Joey Gallo scored all the way from second and Higashioka reached first safely as a result. That blunder officially closed the book on Eovaldi’s night while putting the Yankees up 7-0.

Sawamura got through the rest of the third inning unscathed, though, and he also put up a pair of zeroes in the fourth and fifth to put the finishing touches on his longest outing of the year (2 1/3 innings).

Matt Barnes followed suit by stranding one runner at second base while striking out a pair in a scoreless top half of the sixth, and that set the stage for the Red Sox lineup to finally get something going offensively in the bottom half.

To that point, the Boston bats had been held in check by Yankees starter Gerrit Cole, managing just two hits off the ace right-hander through the first five innings of Friday’s contest.

Their fortunes changed in the sixth, however, and it started when Enrique Hernandez laced a single to right field that was followed by another single from Schwarber to lead things off.

Rafael Devers, coming to the plate with one out, runners at the corners, and a chance to do some damage did just that. The left-handed slugger crushed a 1-0, 89 mph changeup from Cole and sent it 373 feet down the right field line to finally get his side on the board courtesy of the three-run shot.

Devers’ 35th home run of the season trimmed the deficit down to four runs at 7-3, but any momentum the Sox may have garnered was quickly dashed when New York got one of those runs back , as Torres went deep off newly-inserted Boston reliever Martin Perez to lead off the seventh and make it an 8-3 game.

Perez, despite giving up his fair share of hard contact, managed to keep the Yankees lineup at bay from there, but it was not enough to mount a rally on the other side.

Bobby Dalbec, pinch-hitting for Schwarber with two outs in the seventh, punched out to strand a pair of runners in the bottom half of the inning.

Alex Verdugo grounded out to end the eighth inning with a runner on base, while Hunter Renfroe, the pinch-hitting Travis Shaw, and Hernandez went down in the ninth to seal an 8-3 defeat for the Sox.

With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 88-66 on the season as their seven-game winning streak is snapped. They now hold just a one-game lead over the Yankees for the top American League Wild Card spot.

Next up: Pivetta vs. Cortes

The Red Sox will look to bounce back and even up this three-game weekend series on Saturday afternoon by sending right-hander Nick Pivetta to the mound.

The Yankees will counter by turning to left-hander Nestor Cortes, who has yet to start against the Red Sox this season but has seen them twice as a reliever back in June and July.

With the pressure now squarely on the Red Sox, first pitch Saturday is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network. It’s safe to assume that Boston will go back to wearing their traditional home uniforms.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Where Red Sox stand in Wild Card race heading into final stretch of regular season

Following a three-game sweep of the lowly Orioles at Fenway Park over the weekend, the Red Sox find themselves in an encouraging spot heading into the home stretch of the 2021 regular season.

Having won five straight and seven of their last 10 games, the Sox have improved to 86-65 on the year and currently hold a one-game lead over the Blue Jays (84-65) for the top American League Wild Card spot.

So, if the season were to have ended on Sunday night, Boston would be hosting Toronto in a one-game playoff come October 5. But the season did not end on Sunday, as the Red Sox still have 11 games remaining on the docket.

Of those 11 games, the next five will take place at home with the Mets coming into town for a two-game interleague series that begins on Tuesday and the Yankees visiting for a three-game weekend set that begins on Friday.

Following the conclusion of next weekend’s series with New York, the Sox will embark upon a six-game road trip that includes stops in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to close out the season.

With that being said, strength of schedule plays into Boston’s favor here. Of the four teams they will be playing over the next two weeks, only the Yankees (83-67) have a winning record — though none of the four teams would have qualified for the postseason if the regular season had ended on Sunday.

According to Tankathon.com, the Red Sox have the third-easiest schedule in baseball and the easiest schedule in the American League the rest of the way, as the four clubs they will be facing off against have a combined winning percentage of .437. Only the Phillies (.407) and Reds (.419) have easier remaining schedules.

As of Monday morning, FanGraphs gives the Sox an 89.7% chance to make the playoffs, which is up dramatically from where it was at this time one week ago (63.2%).

Baseball-Reference, on the other hand, currently gives the Red Sox an 85.9% chance to make the playoffs after giving them a 71.4% chance just last week.

Of the five teams competing for the two American League Wild Card spots, the Sox are the only club that is off on Monday. The Blue Jays will be opening up a three-game series against the division-leading Rays at Tropicana Field, the Yankees will be opening up a three-game series against the lowly Rangers in the Bronx, and the Athletics and Mariners commence a pivotal four-game series in Oakland.

Taking all that into consideration, the Red Sox at best can carry with them a 1 1/2 game lead over the Jays for the top Wild Card spot coming into play on Tuesday. At worst, it could be just a 1/2 game lead.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernandez, and Hunter Renfroe: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)