Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett continues to be mired in a rough stretch that's lasted nearly two months.
Perhaps a start in Tampa Bay will be what he needs to snap out of his malaise.
Beckett seeks his third consecutive dominant road outing against the Rays and his first win since May when Boston and Tampa Bay play the deciding contest of their three-game set Sunday.
It was a rocky first half for Beckett (4-7, 4.43 ERA), who yielded six or more runs in three separate starts, spent time on the disabled list with inflammation in his throwing shoulder and took heat from fans and media for going golfing in May when his start was skipped due to a strained lat muscle. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA over six starts since beating Philadelphia on May 20.
The Red Sox (44-44) have lost his last five outings, including a 10-8 defeat to the New York Yankees on July 6 after he yielded six runs - five in the first inning.
"In the first inning, the strike zone was very hard for him to find,'' Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Beckett, who managed to escape without a decision. "I've never seen him like that.''
Neither have the Rays (46-42). Beckett is 10-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 21 starts against the Rays. His two outings at Tampa Bay last season were outstanding, as he allowed two hits, struck out 12 and did not walk a batter over 17 shutout innings.
Beckett's winless drought began at home against the Rays on May 26, though he also pitched well in that outing. He limited Tampa Bay to two runs and four hits in seven innings, leaving without a decision in Boston's 3-2 victory.
After the Red Sox opened this series with a win Friday night, the Rays rallied for three runs in the seventh and eighth innings Saturday to turn a one-run deficit into a 5-3 triumph. Tampa Bay plated two runs without a hit in the seventh thanks to three walks, a hit batsman and a sacrifice fly, then added an insurance run in the eighth on a home run by B.J. Upton.
''We're not going to bludgeon people,'' manager Joe Maddon said. ''We have been talking about it. We have to work better at-bats.
''It's about moving the baseball. It's about accepting your walks. It's more than just about getting hits. Sometimes it's about not making an out.''
The comeback made the AL's first 12-game winner of David Price, who gave up three runs over 7 1-3 innings.
The Rays, who have alternated losses and wins their last six games, look to end that pattern with James Shields (8-5, 4.17) on the mound.
Shields has been inconsistent himself against Boston, going 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA in 22 career starts. His finest outing of this season, though, was a 1-0 win at Fenway Park on April 16, when he yielded four hits and two walks over 8 1-3 innings.
The right-hander has struggled in recent weeks, surrendering 10 or more hits in each of his last three outings and allowing opponents to bat .362 in that span.
Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is likely to start after backup Kelly Shoppach played Saturday, but he may wind up wishing he were back on the bench. Saltalamacchia is 0 for 12 with four strikeouts versus Shields.
Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has missed the first two games of this series due to a back ailment, and is considered doubtful.
Rays designated hitter Luke Scott is 0 for 5 with three strikeouts so far this weekend, but he's 11 for 27 (.407) with three homers off Beckett.