A potentially pivotal series against the current AL East leaders awaits when they return home next week. The Tampa Bay Rays, though, are just trying to get through their nine-game trip.
Tampa Bay looks to avoid its first four-game losing streak in nearly a month Tuesday night when it continues its series against the Boston Red Sox.
After poor efforts from starters James Shields(notes) and Wade Davis(notes) in losses at Baltimore over the weekend, the Rays’ bullpen logged another 6 1-3 innings in Monday’s 12-5 loss after Jeff Niemann(notes) walked three and was tagged for six runs.
“(Niemann is) just having a hard time commanding his fastball, which truly is his strong point. That is just going to take some time,” said manager Joe Maddon, whose team has been unable to take advantage of consecutive losses by the East-leading Yankees.
A three-game series against New York begins Monday in St. Petersburg, but the Rays (83-54) are more focused on preventing their first four-game skid since a season-high five-game slide Aug. 4-8.
Giving the ball to David Price(notes) (16-6, 2.92 ERA) could give Tampa Bay’s overworked bullpen a break. The left-hander struck out seven and threw eight innings of one-run ball in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Toronto. It was Price’s first victory since recording a franchise-record 15th win Aug. 9.
Price, though, gave up a career high-tying 10 hits in his previous outing - a 3-1 home loss to Boston on Aug. 27.
“With Price, we’ll take any runs we can get any time we can,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after that victory. “He throws a lot of strikes, he’s got velocity, he’s got angle on his fastball. That’s why he’s one of the best in the game.”
Price will make his first career start at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox (77-61), who are 6 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay and third in the wild-card standings, will counter with Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) (9-4, 4.29). The right-hander has allowed four runs in five of his last six starts, but Boston has won five of those games.
“Right now, it’s not about me or my performance,” Matsuzaka said through an interpreter after giving up four runs over 5 2-3 innings in Thursday’s 6-4 victory at Baltimore. “It’s the fact that the team can get the win in the games that I start.”
Matsuzaka is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts versus Tampa Bay this season, walking four in each outing. He will try to reach double-digit wins for the third time in four major league seasons.
That could happen the way David Ortiz(notes) and Victor Martinez(notes) have hit against the Rays. Ortiz went 2 for 4 with a two-run homer Monday and is batting .365 (19 for 52) with four home runs and 15 RBIs versus Tampa Bay this season.
Martinez, who had a two-run double in the series opener, is hitting .355 with three homers versus Rays pitching in 2010. Two of those home runs were solo shots against Price in the Aug. 27 win.
Rays first baseman Carlos Pena matched a career high with three walks Monday, but is hitless in his last 19 at-bats after homering in back-to-back games Aug. 29-30.
Tampa Bay has won five of seven at Fenway this season.