Alex Rios may not have been a household name prior to this week, but he’s playing like he’s intent on becoming one.
Toronto’s All-Star right fielder tries to lead the Blue Jays to a second straight win as they continue their four-game series with the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Rios, 26, was named to the AL All-Star team as a reserve in 2006, but missed the midsummer classic due to a staph infection in his left leg. He made the team again this year, and entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning.
Rios made a bigger splash in Monday’s Home Run Derby, when he hit 12 homers in the second round and finished second to Angels star Vladimir Guerrero.
He’s carried the hot hitting into the first two games of this series, going 6-for-10 with a homer and three doubles - two of them coming in Friday night’s 6-5 Toronto victory.
“I’ve seen him awfully good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He may take it to a new level now that he’s played in that All-Star game. I think he probably enjoyed that.”
Rios had also played well entering the break, and is 15-for-30 during an eight-game hitting streak.
He’s also batting .611 (11-for-18) in his last five games against Boston, including a three-game set at home in May. Rios went 4-for-4 in a 9-3 defeat May 9, when the starting pitcher for the Red Sox was Daisuke Matsuzaka (10-6, 3.84 ERA).
Matsuzaka is 1-1 in two starts against the Blue Jays this season, both in Toronto. He pitched well in both outings, giving up a total of three runs and eight hits over 13 innings while walking six and striking out 18.
Although the Japanese rookie right-hander won 10 games in the first half, he’s looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort at Detroit on Sunday. He yielded six runs and 10 hits in just five innings of Boston’s 6-5 defeat, suffering his first loss since June 10 and snapping a personal string of six consecutive outings with two runs or fewer allowed.
“The problem was with my control,” Matsuzaka said. “I felt I left a lot of my pitches in soft locations.
“I wasn’t able to throw the fastball for strikes.”
Friday’s loss was the fourth in five games for the Red Sox (54-35), who are 18-20 since May 30. Boston, however, owns a 10-game lead over the Blue Jays and New York Yankees atop the AL East and is tied with the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the majors.
Toronto has alternated wins and losses over its last five games, and will try to break that pattern with Dustin McGowan (5-4, 4.65) on the mound. McGowan, though, has been similarly erratic lately, following a win with a loss over his previous five starts. He’s allowed two runs and 12 hits over 22 innings in the three victories, but 11 runs and 16 hits in just 6 2-3 innings during the two defeats.
The right-hander was excellent in his last start July 4 at Oakland, limiting the A’s to four hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings of Toronto’s 10-3 victory.
McGowan has never started against the Red Sox. He’s 1-0 in two scoreless relief appearances against them.