BOSTON -- That hold-your-breath quality to the Boston Red Sox starting rotation just might be easing a bit. It’s too soon to call it a trend, but entering Wednesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox's starting pitcher has worked into the seventh inning in five of the last six games. Rick Porcello has gone seven twice, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson once apiece, and even Clay Buchholz managed to go 6 1/3 innings despite giving up five runs to the Rays Monday night.
Taken together, the numbers are better than they have been: Red Sox starters have a collective ERA of 3.79 in those six games with 27 strikeouts, seven walks and just two home runs allowed in 38 innings. Masterson, who has two wins, three no-decisions and a 4.71 ERA in five starts, will be facing the Rays for the first time this season. Unlike the Yankees, who ran nine left-handed bats at him last Friday, the Rays only have four players who will be hitting from the left side against him: Center-fielder Kevin Keirmaier, first baseman James Loney, DH David DeJesus, and switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
No one in manager Kevin Cash’s starting lineup has more than two home runs. Cleanup man Evan Longoria has one in his first 92 at-bats.
In the aftermath of his two homer-game Tuesday, you heard Mookie Betts' name linked to Hall of Famer Jim Rice for being the youngest Sox player to hit two home runs in a game since a 22-year-old Rice hit two in a game in 1975. The Rice home runs, by the way, were his first of the ’75 season and came on successive at-bats against Orioles left-hander Ross Grimsley in the team’s eighth game that season.
Wednesday, the Elias Sports Bureau came up with this nugget, linking Betts to another former Sox left fielder who fell a bit short of Rice in popularity in Boston. Betts became just the second leadoff hitter in big-league history to hit two home runs in a game and drive in all his team’s runs in a shutout victory. The other? Carl Crawford, who was playing with the Dodgers when he hit two off Kyle Lohse of the Brewers on April 28, 2013 in a 2-0 win.
Manager John Farrell said Hanley Ramirez is expected to swing a bat Thursday but is still unclear when he will be able to return to other baseball activity, much less playing. Ramirez will accompany the team to Toronto, where the Sox begin a three-city, 10-game trip that will be the team’s longest of the season. After three games against the Blue Jays, the trip continues in Oakland for three games with the Athletics followed by four games against the Mariners in Seattle. There are no travel dates or days off built into the trip.
Shane Victorino is still scheduled to go out on rehab assignment Friday and Saturday, with the expectation of being activated in Oakland, where the Sox are scheduled to face two lefties.
Jim Munsey, agent for former Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, said the Sox expressed no interest in a reunion. Saltalamacchia is a free agent after being released by the Miami Marlins.
Outfielder Rusney Castillo, playing in Pawtucket after recovering from his shoulder strain, has no further physical restrictions, Farrell said. The Sox are waiting for him to have more at-bats and develop better timing and consistency before contemplating a promotion.
Allen Craig will make his second consecutive start in left field since Ramirez smacked into the side wall in left Monday night. “Give him a chance to run with it," Farrell said of Craig, who has 3 hits in his last 9 at-bats and will be starting for the third time in five games, in addition to playing nearly nine innings after replacing Ramirez.
Here is the Sox lineup:
Mookie Betts, cf
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Mike Napoli, 1B
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Allen Craig, LF
Brock Holt, RF
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Justin Masterson, RHP