Rays-Tigers Preview

The Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays are playing their best baseball of the season and have overcome a poor offensive stretch against the Detroit Tigers.

They'll aim to keep both positives going Saturday and secure at least a split in the third of a four-game series at Comerica Park.

Tampa Bay (39-50) evened the series with Friday's 6-3 victory, giving it eight wins in its last 10 games while ending a run of 19 games against the Tigers (48-35) in which it had failed to top four runs.

Evan Longoria went 2 for 2 with a home run and a double while Desmond Jennings was 3 for 5 to give him eight hits in 18 at-bats to begin the month.

It might have ended differently had reliever Brad Boxberger failed to get the team out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the sixth inning with a strikeout and double play. The right-hander has held opponents to a .123 average in 20 appearances since May 21. Only Dellin Betances and Craig Kimbrel have been better in as many appearances in that time.

"You want the guy to either put the ball on the ground or be able to punch somebody out," manager Joe Maddon said. "Now if you get a guy who can do both, how good is that guy?"

Friday's loss was just Detroit's third in 15 games, over which it is batting an MLB-best .290. J.D. Martinez collected two hits Friday to boost his average to a season-best .327. The outfielder is batting .389 over his last 23 contests.

Its starting pitching has also been strong, posting a 2.51 ERA over the run. Anibal Sanchez will attempt to send the Rays right back into their old habits.

Sanchez (5-2, 2.63 ERA) is unbeaten in his last 10 starts, a 5-0 stretch since April 26 with a 2.34 ERA and .195 opponent batting average. The right-hander hadn't allowed more than six hits in a start this season before surrendering eight and three runs - two earned - in seven innings of Monday's 5-4 win over Oakland. Sanchez didn't earn the decision after winning his previous three starts.

Five matchups with Tampa Bay have been slightly more trying with a 2-1 record and 4.05 ERA. Matt Joyce is 4 for 12 with a home run, two triples and a double off Sanchez while James Loney is 4 for 10.

He'll be opposed by Chris Archer, who has also had an extended run of success, though there's been little to show for it in the win column. After beginning the season with a 5.16 ERA through eight starts, Archer (4-5, 3.24) is 2-3 with a 1.65 ERA over his last nine.

Monday's 4-3 road win over the New York Yankees, in which Archer allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings, was the latest example of not being rewarded with the decision. He's 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA away from Tampa Bay.

Archer's only career appearance against Detroit came last season in an extra-inning win and he completed five innings with three runs and five hits allowed. Ian Kinsler is 0 for 6 with four strikeouts in this matchup while Austin Jackson has a home run in two at-bats.

Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez left Friday's game in the eighth inning because of back irritation. He had missed three games with soreness on his left side before returning to the lineup Thursday. He's a career .369 hitter in 70 games against Tampa Bay.

"The chances of him playing (Saturday) are almost nil, and we'll go day to day after that," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said.

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