Originally inserted into the Boston rotation as a stopgap, Julian Tavarez is becoming an important mainstay.
The veteran right-hander tries to lead the Red Sox to an interleague series win over the Atlanta Braves when the teams play the deciding contest of their three-game set Wednesday night at Turner Field.
Tavarez (4-4, 4.97 ERA) worked out of the bullpen for the bulk of his 14-year major league career prior to 2007, but became Boston’s fifth starter late in spring training with Jon Lester still recovering from cancer and Jonathan Papelbon moving back into the closer’s role.
Although lasting beyond the sixth inning only twice in 12 starts, Tavarez has pitched better as the season has progressed, going 3-0 with a 3.65 ERA in his last six outings.
On Friday against San Francisco, he allowed two runs over seven innings of Boston’s 10-2 victory.
“Whatever the Red Sox want to do with me, send me to the bullpen, I’d be happy to, as long as I’m on the team,” Tavarez told the team’s official Web site. “I just want to keep this uniform as long as I can in my career.”
Even though Lester may return to the majors soon, it appears the Red Sox (45-25) could need Tavarez in their rotation for a while longer. Staff ace Curt Schilling - who took the loss in Monday’s series opener - went back to Boston on Tuesday to get an MRI exam on his pitching shoulder, and his status is uncertain.
Tavarez is 4-3 with a 5.28 ERA in 31 appearances, including only three starts, against Atlanta (38-34). He’ll have to overcome a couple of Braves who have hit him very well in the past.
Renteria is also 10-for-17 over his last four games, but left Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss when his back stiffened after a 48-minute rain delay in the seventh inning. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said he doesn’t believe the injury is serious, though, and expects his shortstop to play Wednesday.
The Braves still trail the slumping New York Mets by 1 1/2 games in the NL East after Tuesday’s defeat, in which they managed only five hits against Josh Beckett - who improved to 10-1 on the season - and three Boston relievers.
“Too much Beckett - period,” Cox said.
Atlanta center fielder Andruw Jones fell deeper into his slump. He went 0-for-4 and is hitless in his last 18 at-bats to drop his season average to .202.
After sitting out Monday’s game with no designated hitter in the NL park, Boston slugger David Ortiz played first base Tuesday and hit a solo home run. Four of his five career hits at Turner Field are homers.
With their fourth win in five games, the Red Sox extended their AL East lead to nine games over the New York Yankees.
Atlanta will send Buddy Carlyle (1-1, 4.44) to the mound for the series finale. The right-hander produced his second quality start in three outings last Friday at Cleveland, when he gave up three runs over six innings but did not earn a decision in the Braves’ 5-4 victory.
Carlyle, who has never faced the Red Sox, has not received more than three runs of support in any of his five starts.