Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays have struggled to score lately and as a result, are in danger of dropping to .500 for the first time in almost a month.

The Boston Red Sox will look to take advantage once again Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, the Red Sox (44-29) held the Rays (36-35) to two runs and 10 hits while sweeping a doubleheader. Tampa Bay has scored just 14 runs while losing six of seven and is hitting .200 during that span. Evan Longoria is 0 for his last 10, James Loney is 1 for his last 25 and Desmond Jennings is batting .192 during that seven-game span.

The Red Sox have won nine of 11 this season against the Rays, including all five games at Fenway Park. Tampa Bay has totaled five runs and batted .148 in those contests.

Boston's Ryan Dempster (4-7, 4.21 ERA) will look to keep those bats in check. He's posted a 3.25 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .216 average in his last four starts. The right-hander threw a season-high 122 pitches in a 2-0 loss at Baltimore on Friday, yielding two runs and five hits over 7 2-3 innings.

"Ryan did a great job, threw a great game," catcher David Ross said. "That was a huge, huge performance. Those last innings, I think, were his best innings. The slider was really sharp, fastball was sinking.''

Dempster did walk five in that outing, however, in a continuation of his season-long control issues. He is fourth in the majors with 40 walks, including 21 over his last six starts.

Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 5.67) aims to overcome a discouraging start his last time out. Coming off of six shutout innings against Baltimore, Hellickson had his worst game of the season Thursday, allowing eight runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 10-1 loss to Kansas City. It marked the sixth time this season that the right-hander allowed five-plus runs.

Hellickson has been victimized by big innings, surrendering multi-run frames in 10 of his 14 starts this season.

"I'm pretty frustrated,'' Hellickson said. "It wasn't a fun game. Eight runs, it's unacceptable. It's definitely not pitch selection. I've just got to execute whatever I throw. I wish I could maybe spread around the hits. One here, one there, instead of five, six in a row.''

Hellickson has struggled in night games this season. He has a 2.42 ERA during the day, holding the opposition to a .211 batting average. At night, however, Hellickson has a 7.09 ERA with hitters batting .291 against him.

A loss in the finale of this three-game set would be the Rays' season high-tying fourth straight, and would leave them at .500 for the first time since they were 24-24 on May 25.

Dempster and Hellickson have already faced off once this season, with both going seven innings in a 3-2 Boston win on April 15. Dempster set a season high with 10 strikeouts and held Tampa Bay to one run and two hits, while Hellickson also impressed with a season-high nine strikeouts. He limited Boston to two runs and three hits.

Hellickson will want to be careful with David Ortiz, who is 7 for 19 against him with two home runs and six walks. The Red Sox designated hitter went 4 for 8 in Tuesday's doubleheader and is among the league leaders with five home runs this month.

Boston's Jose Iglesias is batting .422 during an 18-game hitting streak.

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