With their 2007 schedules exactly halfway complete, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays have yet to face each other. The AL East rivals will be seeing a lot of each other, beginning with a three-game set at Fenway Park starting Tuesday night.
First-place Boston (50-31) has played 25 games within the division, but due to a scheduling quirk none of them have been against Tampa Bay (33-48). As a result, 18 of the teams’ final 81 contests - more than 20 percent - will be against each other.
Although the Devil Rays occupy last place in the East, facing them frequently down the stretch isn’t automatically a good thing for Boston. The Red Sox took 10 of 19 games in last season’s tightly contested series, and they’ve always had trouble hitting Tampa Bay ace Scott Kazmir (5-4, 4.26 ERA), who will take the mound in the series opener.
In 11 career starts versus Boston, Kazmir is 5-2 with a 2.60 ERA - the lowest among all active players with a minimum of 50 innings pitched against the Red Sox.
The 23-year-old left-hander has been tough on Boston’s two biggest bats. Manny Ramirez is 4-for-29 (.138) in his career versus Kazmir, while David Ortiz is 5-for-26 (.192). Both Red Sox sluggers have struck out nine times against him.
Kazmir has earned all his victories on the road this season, going 5-1 with a 4.47 ERA in seven starts. Pitching at home Thursday, he gave up four runs over 5 1-3 innings of a 5-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, although he did strike out nine. He was driven from the game after throwing 114 pitches, marking the fifth straight outing he failed to pitch beyond the sixth inning.
“It’s frustrating,” said Kazmir, whose averages of 18.2 pitches per inning and 4.11 per batter are the highest in the major leagues. “It’s the same pitch count again. You just have to keep battling.”
It’s quickly becoming another frustrating season for the Devil Rays, who extended their longest losing streak of the season to eight with a 10-2 loss at Cleveland on Monday night.
Tampa Bay, which has suffered four-game sweeps to the Indians and White Sox during the current skid, last dropped nine in a row from Sept. 10-19, en route to its eighth last-place finish in nine years.
Kazmir will face Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-5, 3.80), one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. The Japanese rookie right-hander did not give up more than two runs in any of his five June outings, compiling a 1.59 ERA - third-best in the majors for the month.
Matsuzaka went only 2-2 in June, though, as he was plagued by poor run support. The Red Sox have not scored more than two runs for him in any of his last six starts.
He limited the Mariners to one run, three hits and one walk while striking out eight over eight innings Wednesday, but the Red Sox went on to lose 2-1 in 11 innings.
Following that contest, Boston totaled only seven runs in the first three games of a series with the Texas Rangers - owners of the second-worst team ERA in baseball. However, the Red Sox rebounded Monday night to beat the Rangers 7-3 and salvage a four-game split.
“I was told during batting practice,” Hinske said. “I just tried to get prepared as I always do.”
Youkilis’ status is uncertain for Tuesday.