PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Port, where Rays pitcher David Price shaved his head before the game and then sheared off the Red Sox bats in a blistering performance.
The result: The half-strength Red Sox were pummeled, 8-4, by the full-strength Rays on a wind-whipped Sunday afternoon before a Charlotte Sports Park record crowd of 7,852. The Red Sox are now 7-10-1. The Rays jumped out to an 8-0 lead behind the hitting of James Loney (3-for-4, double, 4 RBIs) and Ben Zobrist (2-for-3, double, RBI). The Red Sox rallied with two runs in the seventh (both charged to Price after he left) and two in the ninth. Ryan Lavarnway was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Fortune favors the bald: Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young winner, doesn’t need a bald head to be effective. In two previous spring starts, he had given up just three hits and one run while striking out eight in five innings.
But what the heck. It sure didn’t hurt.
Prior to the game, he was one of two dozen players and staff to have their heads shaved to raise funds and awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
Once he took the mound, he didn’t allow a hit until Jonathan Herrera beat out a two-out infield grounder in the third. In 6 2/3 innings, he gave up just three hits, walked one and struck out seven.
“He was pretty good, wasn’t he?” said Red Sox catcher David Ross, who went 0-for-3 against Price. “He was good. That’s why he’s David Price. That’s why he gets all the awards. He’s pretty good.”
Making progress: Red Sox starter Allen Webster took the loss, but he pitched well (four innings, three hits, two earned runs) and was hurt by some shaky defense (errors by Will Middlebrooks and Brock Holt in the second).
“I like that he has a two-seamer now that’s really, really sinking well,” Ross said. “And he’s starting to pitch with it. We didn’t even use the breaking ball or slider that much. We went with sinker/changeup. I think he’s going to be really special here soon. You’re going to hear some things out of him.”
Webster said he’s improved this spring because he’s not trying to overpower hitters with a four-seamer.
“Mainly, this spring I’ve been working on my mechanics, staying back, not drifting forward and being able to repeat the two-seam down the middle,” Webster said. “I’m making good progress.
“Today was one of the first days I was out there and I wasn’t thinking about [mechanics] at all. I was just out there throwing and they were going down in the zone. I’m real happy with it.”
On the other hand: The game got out of control when Drake Britton replaced Webster in the fifth after Webster walked leadoff batter Ryan Hanigan. Britton gave up three hits and served up a wild pitch in the fifth, then gave up another three runs in the sixth before he was lifted with two outs.
“As much as it sucks to go through an outing like that, it’s good as well,” Britton said. “Gives me discipline to do the things I need to work on and the things I’ve got to do to get myself ready for the season.”
Truncated day: After sitting out two games with a hyperextended finger, Middlebrooks started at third base but lasted just two innings, going 0-for-1.
Middlebrooks felt some discomfort during pregame infield work and decided not to push it too hard.
“I got out there just to feel things out,” he said. “It’s still a little sore. We talked about it and said, ‘Now is not the time to grind through things. Let’s just get it where it needs to be and we’ll be fine from there.’”
Breaking it down behind the plate: Manager John Farrell said that when team officials discussed a free-agent contract with A.J. Pierzynski in the offseason, they made it clear to Pierzynski that they viewed Ross as more than a traditional backup catcher in terms of games played.
“We view the position as a two-man position, so if that’s a 160-game split between the two, 110 and 50, I don’t know the exact number,” Farrell said. “There’s going to be some matchups mid-week that we might want to take advantage of a combination of a guy on the mound and David on the plate. And A.J. and David are both well aware of that.”
At least for now, Farrell said Ross will not necessarily be the catcher every time Jon Lester starts, even though that worked well in the postseason.
“You look always for the best combination, but you don’t want it to become where you’re married to it,” Farrell said. “Then you become inflexible to other options and matchups that that might be advantageous. David Ross is going to catch all our starters.”
He said the beauty of Ross’ defensive prowess is his ability to frame pitches and get the borderline strike call from umpires.
“He’ll position himself behind the plate to give the umpire a little bit different view, so there are times when he’s going away from a righthander and he’ll angle his body a little bit differently to allow that umpire to see over his shoulder a little bit more,” Farrell said. “And he’s able to get some called strikes out there where maybe the guy that blocks him off [creates] the dark area out there and the umpire can lose the flight of the ball. So his framing ability is well above average.”
Roster cuts: Farrell said additional roster cuts could be made before Tuesday’s game in Tampa against the Yankees. “With minor-league games beginning and their season fast approaching, there’s some guys in camp that we’ve got to start getting at-bats on the other side, as well as innings pitched,” he said. “There’s some guys who need to go get ready for their season.”
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr. was 1-for-3 with a double and a strikeout.
“I thought Jackie’s at-bats were very good today,” Farrell said. “He stayed on some fastballs away from him and he laid off some tough pitches in, even after he gets hit in his first at-bat.”
Before the game, Farrell talked about what he wants to see from JBJ the rest of the spring: “Quality at-bats. That’s not hinged to a batting average. That’s just putting up quality at-bats as consistently as possible. Defensively, there’s nothing to suggest he needs development or that area of the game. We’re confident in him. But it’s quality at-bats, getting on base and finding the spots to be a little more aggressive on the basepaths. Just using his skill set.”
X file: Xander Bogaerts did not make the trip. Farrell suggested that while it’s possible that a “demanding spring training” has affected his hitting (.130), he likes what he’s seeing. He said that there was a moment during Saturday night’s game when both he and infield coach Brian Butterfield watched Bogaerts in the field and knew that the work has paid off.
“It’s not that we’re doing things extremely or altogether different than the minor leagues are, but there’s a lot of expectations on him,” Farrell said. “He does not take anything for granted, so in all the work sessions that he’s in, he’s full go. I’m not going to say that’s taking away from his at-bats, but he has had a demanding spring training and one that we feel like he needs. But at the same time, you watch his body language, and he’s much more free and relaxed because of all the work and all the conversations that have gone into the position.”
The dot, dot, dots: John Lackey goes against the Cardinals in Monday’s 1:05 p.m. game at JetBlue Park (televised on ESPN), backed by Rubby De La Rosa, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. Shelby Miller starts for the Cardinals. ... Felix Doubront will start on Tuesday in Tampa against the Yankees, backed by Brandon Workman, Dalier Hinojosa, Tommy Layne and Rich Hill. Michael Pineda starts for the Yankees. ... The Red Sox came into Sunday’s game tied with the Nationals with 19 home runs -- two more than they had in the entire spring a year ago. ... Sunday’s game was the fifth of seven Red Sox spring training games to feature instant replay. ... A group from the Jimmy Fund is in Fort Myers for the weekend. They watched Saturday’s game and took batting practice Sunday morning at JetBlue Park.