Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett continues to be mired in a rough stretch that's lasted nearly two months.
Perhaps a start in Tampa Bay will be what he needs to snap out of his malaise.
Beckett seeks his third consecutive dominant road outing against the Rays and his first win since May when Boston and Tampa Bay play the deciding contest of their three-game set Sunday.
It was a rocky first half for Beckett (4-7, 4.43 ERA), who yielded six or more runs in three separate starts, spent time on the disabled list with inflammation in his throwing shoulder and took heat from fans and media for going golfing in May when his start was skipped due to a strained lat muscle. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA over six starts since beating Philadelphia on May 20.
The Red Sox (44-44) have lost his last five outings, including a 10-8 defeat to the New York Yankees on July 6 after he yielded six runs - five in the first inning."In the first inning, the strike zone was very hard for him to find," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Beckett, who managed to escape without a decision. "I've never seen him like that."
Neither have the Rays (46-42). Beckett is 10-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 21 starts against the Rays. His two outings at Tampa Bay last season were outstanding, as he allowed two hits, struck out 12 and did not walk a batter over 17 shutout innings.
Beckett's winless drought began at home against the Rays on May 26, though he also pitched well in that outing. He limited Tampa Bay to two runs and four hits in seven innings, leaving without a decision in Boston's 3-2 victory.
After the Red Sox opened this series with a win Friday night, the Rays rallied for three runs in the seventh and eighth innings Saturday to turn a one-run deficit into a 5-3 triumph. Tampa Bay plated two runs without a hit in the seventh thanks to three walks, a hit batsman and a sacrifice fly, then added an insurance run in the eighth on a home run by B.J. Upton."We're not going to bludgeon people," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have been talking about it. We have to work better at-bats."It's about moving the baseball. It's about accepting your walks. It's more than just about getting hits. Sometimes it's about not making an out."
The comeback made the AL's first 12-game winner of David Price , who gave up three runs over 7 1-3 innings.
The Rays, who have alternated losses and wins their last six games, look to end that pattern with James Shields (8-5, 4.17) on the mound.
Shields has been inconsistent himself against Boston, going 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA in 22 career starts. His finest outing of this season, though, was a 1-0 win at Fenway Park on April 16, when he yielded four hits and two walks over 8 1-3 innings.
The right-hander has struggled in recent weeks, surrendering 10 or more hits in each of his last three outings and allowing opponents to bat .362 in that span.
Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is likely to start after backup Kelly Shoppach played Saturday, but he may wind up wishing he were back on the bench. Saltalamacchia is 0 for 12 with four strikeouts versus Shields.
Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has missed the first two games of this series due to a back ailment, and is considered doubtful.
Rays designated hitter Luke Scott is 0 for 5 with three strikeouts so far this weekend, but he's 11 for 27 (.407) with three homers off Beckett.
|Boston Red Sox|
|July 04, 2012||Dustin Pedroia||Day-to-Day||Jammed right thumb|
|July 04, 2012||Dustin Pedroia||15-Day DL||Jammed right thumb|
|July 03, 2012||Daisuke Matsuzaka||15-Day DL||Neck injury|
|June 20, 2012||Clay Buchholz||15-Day DL||Gastro-intestinal illness|
|June 20, 2012||Clay Buchholz||15-Day DL||Gastro-intestinal illness|
|June 19, 2012||Dustin Pedroia||Day-to-Day||Left game - right thumb|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|June 20, 2012||Matt Joyce||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|June 17, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Flu|
|June 15, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||15-Day DL||Right shoulder fatigue|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Boston Red Sox are happy with their post All-Star game start.
Josh Beckett overcame early struggles to pitch six effective innings, Will Middlebrooks drove in a pair during a tiebreaking three-run fifth, and the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3 on Sunday.
Boston took two of three from the Rays after dropping six of seven before the All-Star break.
"We've got to win series now," Beckett said of the Red Sox, who are 45-44.
Beckett (5-7) allowed three runs - all in the first - and eight hits. The right-hander, 5-0 over his past eight games against Tampa Bay, struck out seven and walked two in stopping a personal six-start winless streak.
"He's battling this flu a little, and I think he just had to get his feet on the ground a little," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "But did one heck of a job, putting those goose eggs up. He's a great competitor. He wasn't going to let that game get away him."
Boston went ahead 6-3 during the fifth when Daniel Nava homered and Middlebrooks had a two-run single off James Shields (8-6), who has allowed double-digits hits in four consecutive starts.
"We need to get some momentum going in this second half," Middlebrooks said.
Boston closer Alfredo Aceves , in a non-save situation, loaded the bases on three walks in the ninth, but retired Hideki Matsui on a high fly to right to end it.
Shields lasted just five innings, giving up six runs and 11 hits. He is 3-6 over his past 12 games.
"I'm just not making my pitches," Shields said. "That's all. I've got to do a better job of making my pitches. Of course it's frustrating. I'm not doing my job right now. The bottom line is I've got to get better."
Cody Ross made it 7-3 on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly.
"I like the way we're coming together," Valentine said.
Adrian Gonzalez put the Red Sox up 1-0 on a first-inning RBI single. Mike Aviles ' two-run homer tied it at 3 in the second.
Ben Zobrist had a run-scoring infield single that went off Beckett's glove, and Desmond Jennings hit a two-run single during the bottom of the first.
The Red Sox return home Monday night for a four-game series against Kevin Youkilis and the Chicago White Sox. Youkilis was traded from Boston to the White Sox last month.
Valentine questioned Youkilis' commitment to the game during a television interview early in the season and later apologized to him a day later.
"I think the comment that I made early, he made a big issue out of and I don't think he wanted to get over it," Valentine said.
Notes: After the game, Valentine said that LF Carl Crawford (left wrist) will rejoin the team on Monday. He had been rehabbing this weekend at Triple-A Pawtucket. ... Boston DH David Ortiz walked in his ninth consecutive game. The DH also has a 10-game hitting streak. ... Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria , out since May 1 with a partially torn left hamstring, took grounders. ... Boston OF Ryan Sweeney (left hamstring) didn't play for the second straight game, but could return soon. ... Boston placed RHP Scott Atchison on the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm strain and recalled pitcher RHP Junichi Tazawa from Triple-A Pawtucket.