Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Associated Press

Some woeful Boston pitching helped the Tampa Bay Rays stage a dramatic September comeback last year to reach the playoffs at the expense of the Red Sox.

This weekend at Fenway Park, it's been Tampa Bay's vaunted staff that looks like the problem.

The Red Sox didn't miss a beat offensively in their first game without Jacoby Ellsbury, and they'll look to spoil Rays rookie Matt Moore's first start in the series Sunday.

While Boston's starters posted a 7.08 ERA during the team's disastrous final month last season, the Rays' rotation finished 2011 with an AL-best 3.53 ERA.

Tampa Bay's pitching was especially sharp against the Red Sox in 2011 - the 2.88 staff ERA in the season series was a huge reason for the Rays' 12-6 record. That same staff has been wholly ineffective at Fenway this weekend, with Boston totaling 25 runs and 31 hits in two lopsided victories.

Saturday's 13-5 onslaught came without Ellsbury, who is on the disabled list after suffering a shoulder injury Friday. Mike Aviles filled in admirably in the leadoff spot, going 3 for 5 with a home run and a double.

The Red Sox (3-5) also got four other homers, including David Ortiz's first of the year - part of a 4-for-5 day with five RBIs for the veteran designated hitter.

"It's not going to happen every day, but that doesn't mean that we're not going to go at it. We have good hitters," Ortiz said. "We're going to miss (Ellsbury) a lot, but whenever we can come out and produce like we did (Saturday), we've got to take advantage of it."

Cody Ross, playing center field in place of Ellsbury, had four RBIs.

Starter Jeremy Hellickson managed five innings one day after David Price recorded just nine outs, leaving a lot of work for the Tampa Bay bullpen. The Red Sox rocked those relievers for eight runs in the eighth inning of a 12-2 win Friday before scoring five times in the eighth Saturday.

Rays relievers have a 12.39 ERA this season.

"The bullpen's covering a lot of innings," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "We've got to get deeper into the game. That's been our strength in the past."

Despite walking five, Moore lasted 6 2-3 innings Tuesday at Detroit. He allowed two runs and four hits, but the bullpen also crumbled in that game, a 5-2 loss.

Tampa Bay (4-4) has high expectations for the 22-year-old left-hander, who struck out 15 in 9 1-3 September innings last year before dominating Texas for seven shutout frames in the Rays' playoff opener and only postseason win.

He gave up one run in three innings of relief at Fenway on Sept. 17, helping to defeat Boston 4-3 in his second major league appearance.

"It was my second time out and I had the opportunity to go either way, down or up, so I wound up making a few good pitches and getting out of some tight situations," Moore told the Rays' official website. "It gave me peace of mind that I could get out of some jams."

The Red Sox will also send a young southpaw to the mound Sunday after a promising 2012 debut from Felix Doubront. He allowed two runs in five innings Monday at Toronto, striking out six, and the Red Sox rallied in the ninth for a 4-2 win - their first victory of the season.

Doubront lost his only career start against the Rays, walking four in his second big league appearance July 6, 2010.

Tampa Bay is trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak since starting the 2011 season 0-6.

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