David Ortiz is back in the Red Sox‘ lineup, allowing he and David Price to renew their rocky relationship Friday night in the first game of a three-game set against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Ortiz had tweaked his back on a checked swing Thursday in an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays and left the game mid-at-bat.

David Ortiz is back in the Red Sox‘ lineup, allowing he and David Price to renew their rocky relationship Friday night in the first game of a three-game set against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Ortiz had tweaked his back on a checked swing Thursday in an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays and left the game mid-at-bat.

Price and Ortiz have made headlines for their on-field and off-field feuds this season, with Price hitting Ortiz back in May and the two exchanging words about one another through the media since.

Boston’€™s lineup is as follows:

1. Brock Holt, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. Johnny Gomes, LF
6. Shane Victorino, RF
7. Xander Bogaerts, 3B
8. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
9. David Ross, C
SP ‘€” Lester

For more Red Sox news, visit weei.com/redsox.

Blog Author: 
WEEI
Jon Lester could suddenly be viewed by teams as the ultimate prize of this year's trade deadline. (AP)

Jon Lester could suddenly be viewed by teams as the ultimate prize of this year’s trade deadline. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox and Rays may both assume residence at the bottom of the American League East, but the contrast in the dwellings of the team teams is currently stark.

With three straight losses on their way out of Toronto, the Red Sox‘ last-place standing in the division is becoming more and more rigidly defined by the day. The flicker of optimism about potential contention inspired by the team’s eight wins in nine games has yielded to the reality that it’s so very difficult for a team that has shown only rare bursts of strong play to reassert itself in the playoff hunt. The Sox are 9 1/2 games back in the division, and it feels like they’re 95 games back, as ever winning two out of every three remaining games would net the team just 87 wins — a longshot for the second wild card, let alone the division.

The Rays, meanwhile, are surging. They are 25-11, and so even though they are just 2 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox, they are hitting their stride in a fashion that validates the widespread view of Tampa Bay as the class of the division. Their seven-game deficit in the division somehow seems like a small fraction of what the Red Sox face.

And so it is that the Friday night pitching matchup of ace left-handers David Price and Jon Lester may represent a pendulum swing with repercussions to be realized throughout baseball. As the Rays surge, they seem increasingly inclined to hold onto Price unless they can command a ransom for an elite pitcher who is under team control for the duration of this season and then all of 2015.

Meanwhile, the Sox are sinking at a time when no ground has been gained in extension talks between Lester and his team. And so, it seems increasingly necessary to ask: Could the prize of the trade market shift from Price to Lester? This is a subject of considerable curiosity to talent evaluators as the July 31 market of tradeable assets gains definition.

Price is 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA, 10.0 strikeouts and just 1.2 walks per nine. He represents a formidable addition for any potential contender for both this year and next, and if an acquiring team wasn’t able to re-sign him, it would still receive a compensatory draft pick for his departure. That’s an enormously valuable asset.

Lester, by contrast, is under contract for just the remainder of this year — with a bit more than $4 million remaining in terms of salary obligations to him, hardly a deal-breaker for any team. As a player who would be dealt mid-year in the season prior to reaching free agency, a team could not make him a qualifying offer for the sake of capturing a draft pick should he depart.

But Lester would offer a dominant presence for the duration of 2014, a 30-year-old who has never pitched better. He doesn’t have a Cy on his shelf, but he’s thrusting himself into the mix quickly for the possibility of one this year. He’s 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA, 9.3 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine. He’s been masterful, and he has a track record as one of the top October pitchers not just of this generation but of all time, his 1.97 ERA as an October starter ranking among the top handful ever.

If Price doesn’t move, teams that viewed him as the key to a potential championship run could easily set their sites on Lester and give up a significant haul.

A year ago, after all, the Rangers parted with a major league-ready starter (Justin Grimm), a High-A pitcher with top-of-the-rotation upside (C.J. Edwards), a close-to-the-big-leagues corner bat with huge power potential even if some significant questions about his ability to make contact (Mike Olt) and a reliever (Neal Ramirez) to the Cubs for two-plus months of Matt Garza. Teams will pay for rentals.

“The way we looked at it at the time was, a few things: First of all, we thought the American League was up for grabs. I thought there were a number of good teams. We didn’t think, at that time in July, that there was anyone elite and truly separating from the pack. There was Oakland, Detroit, Tampa, obviously Boston went on to win the whole thing,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels explained on WEEI’s Trade Deadline Show on Thursday night. “We felt we could truly contend with those clubs. We wanted to take a shot. We’d been to the playoffs the previous three years. Wanted to continue that. We also knew the dynamic with the club, we had some free-agent decisions coming up, and we wanted to kind of give it a real shot.

“There’s kind of a taboo on trading for rental players. Obviously, you give up a lot of years of control on the back end. I’m a little bit of the mindset that when you have a chance to win it in front of you, you’d just tasted it and come as close as we did, and knowing how special it is, how unique it is to win and have a chance, of course you’d like longer term control of a player, of course that would be preferable, but you have to take a little bit of a chance. If you’re not completely risk averse, take a little bit of a chance and give yourself a chance to win.”

The Rangers took that shot years ago. Other teams might be open to doing so this year. One evaluator suggested potential return for Lester — given how dominant he’s been this year — could be something along the lines of two top prospects and a mid-level type, with a power bat and outfielder (such as Dodgers prospect Joc Pederson) representing potentially fair return. (The Dodgers, it’s worth noting, have been widely connected as a potential trade destination for Price.) Another evaluator said that the Sox could potentially fetch a top prospect, perhaps a corner power bat or a starter, as the centerpiece of a Lester deal.

Ironically, if Lester loses to Price on Friday, it could increase the likelihood that the Rays will be in the thick of the race and thus further strengthen the possibility that Lester becomes the ultimate prize between now and July 31.

There are no guarantees, of course, that the Sox would want to deal him. The team may believe that its best chance to retain his services — and to have an ace who would otherwise be very, very difficult to replace — for the long haul would be by keeping him for the rest of the year.

But suffice it to say that an elite pitching matchup with a fellow top-tier left-hander is not the only intrigue that will surround Lester for the next six days.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

A National League scout discussing the Red Sox system last week paused to contemplate the status of Will Middlebrooks‘ rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I’d love to get him,” the scout said flatly.

At a time when the scarcity of power in the game is a widely examined phenomenon, Middlebrooks continues to show tantalizing glimpses of that increasingly rare trait. The third baseman followed a home run for Pawtucket — where he remains amidst a Triple-A rehab assignment, more than two months after he suffered a fractured finger — on Wednesday (in a game suspended by rain) by going deep again on Thursday. In 15 games in July, he’s now gone deep four times for the PawSox, hitting .291 with a .333 OBP and .564 slugging mark.

The average and slugging mark suggest a player who can impact the ball with rare authority. The on-base percentage (a product of three walks and 15 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances this month) does little to dispel valid questions about how often his offensive approach will permit him to apply that skill.

But even with those questions, there is unquestionably talent — and value — with a fascinating question looming about whether a Red Sox organization that was burned this year by getting too young, too quickly can be the one to give Middlebrooks the opportunity to try to realize his talents at the big league level.

The 25-year-old likely needs to be in the big leagues soon, whether for the Red Sox to see if he can emerge as a more reliable power threat that they’ve been lacking or for another team that wants to afford the still young third baseman that opportunity, at a time when he still retains value and intrigue.

“He’s well aware of the need to get regular at-bats. We’ve got to do some things to maybe adjust the roster to accommodate that,” manager John Farrell told reporters in Toronto on Thursday. “Whether that happens naturally through this upcoming week, that remains to be seen, with the roster adjustments and any potential trades. Before even saying anything about that, I’d be gettingtoo far ahead of myself. Most important, Will is healthy, swinging the bat well and playing daily.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-2 WIN (COMPLETION OF SUSPENDED GAME), 5-1 WIN AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

(BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2)

– Feats of Mookie: Renewing a familiar pattern. Mookie Betts collected hits in both contests, following a 1-for-5 contest with a 1-for-3 effort that also included a walk in the second game. That’s hits in four straight games, during which the 21-year-old is 6-for-18 with a triple and a walk. Interestingly, however, Betts is striking out more than usual, having fanned five times in those four contests — atypical for a player who has 52 walks and 39 strikeouts in 82 minor league games this year. (Betts walked once and struck out five times in his 10 big league contests.)

Travis Shaw maintained his outrageous July run, going 5-for-7 with a double and a walk in the two contests. His 20-game July on-base streak now features a .342 average, .437 OBP and .562 slugging mark with more walks (13) than strikeouts (12). Overall, the 24-year-old is hitting .289/.347/.473 in Triple-A, including .322/.379/.545 against righties. At a time when some teams are examining Mike Carp as a potential complementary piece who might be able to round out a roster if acquired in a trade, Shaw now gives the Sox prospect depth — left-handed at that — to be able to contemplate such a possibility.

– In what could be the prelude to a return to the big leagues (if the Red Sox find a buyer for Jake Peavy in the coming days), right-hander Brandon Workman tossed six innings and allowed one run on five hits while walking one and punching out six. In his last two starts, the 25-year-old has allowed one run in 11 innings while punching out 12 and walking three.

– Outfielder Alex Hassan walked in all four plate appearances in the first contest, with the four free passes representing a career high for a player whose plate discipline has long been a hallmark. Hassan is hitting .277/.375/.439.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 7-1 LOSS AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

(BOX)

– It’s a matter of if, not when, Henry Owens is promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. At this point, it would be a surprise if the left-hander doesn’t move up by next week — almost exactly a year after he moved to Double-A Portland.

That being the case, there is a chance that Owens just experienced an anticlimactic end to what has been a spectacular run in Portland. In his first start since turning 22, Owens allowed five runs on five hits (including a homer and double, both by Kennys Vargas, whom Owens struck out in the All-Star Futures Game) and four walks while punching out six. The outing interrupted a string of nine straight starts in which Owens had logged at least 5 2/3 innings while permitting two or fewer walks. It was also just the second game in his last 14 starts in which the left-hander was taken deep.

Still, if that was Owens’ final start in Portland, his overall results attest to dominance over an extended stretch. In 25 combined starts in Double-A between 2013 and 2014, the 2011 supplemental first-rounder is 16-5 with a 2.40 ERA, 10.4 strikeouts per nine and 3.7 walks per nine with opponents hitting just .191 against him. That broader track record suggests that it’s a more than appropriate time for him to be challenged by a higher level of competition — assuming that he doesn’t end up being the centerpiece of a blockbuster.

– Catcher Blake Swihart continued his climb towards .300, going 2-for-4 with a double. A five-game hitting streak that has featured three multi-hit games and during which the 22-year-old is 8-for-21 with two walks, a homer and two doubles (.381/.435/.619) has elevated his season line to .298/.353/.489. Given the pairing of Swihart and Owens on Thursday, it’s not difficult to figure out why (according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark) the Phillies sent scouts swooping in to New Britain to watch the Sea Dogs play on Thursday.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-0 LOSS AT LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

(BOX)

– Right-hander Simon Mercedes, in his second start back in Salem after spending time on the sidelines to work on strengthening and condition before a rehab assignment with Lowell, allowed five runs on seven hits (including a homer) while walking one and striking out six in five innings. Mercedes has now given up a homer in each of his last four starts in Salem (four in 19 2/3 innings) after permitting just two in his first 34 2/3 innings at the level. Still, he’s typically featured high groundball rates and swing-and-miss stuff (he’s punched out 55 in 54 1/3 innings in Salem this year), suggesting that he’s shown an arsenal that has been more impressive than his 2-7 record or 4.64 ERA in Salem might suggest.

– Right-hander William Cuevas had a dominant outing in a three-inning piggyback outing, giving up no hits, walking one and punching out seven. The 23-year-old is averaging 7.7 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings while forging a 4.68 ERA.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 8-3 LOSS AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES)

(BOX)

– Right-hander Myles Smith, a 2013 fourth-rounder, had one of his best outings of the year. Through five innings, he’d given up just two runs on four hits and a walk before he was touched for three singles and a walk while recording one out in the sixth. Given that it was just the second time this year that Smith had worked into a sixth inning, the more useful relative measure of his performance (in comparison to the rest of his challenging first pro season) was likely to be found in those first five frames. Still, with the three runs that ended up being charged to him for the sixth, Smith is now 3-7 with a 6.46 ERA and more walks (51) than strikeouts (47) in 76 2/3 innings.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 9-3 LOSS VS. HUDSON VALLEY (RAYS)

(BOX)

– First baseman Sam Travis went 3-for-4 with a double, extending his hitting streak to 10 games during which he has a .370/.370/.500 line. In his pro debut, the 20-year-old second-rounder is now hitting .299/.329/.394 in 33 games, and while his OBP is modest, he hasn’t been getting beaten by the pitching he’s facing, as evidenced by a relatively low strikeout rate of 10.5 percent.

– Right-hander Ty Buttrey allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in five innings of work, walking three and striking out five. In three rehab outings with Lowell, the 21-year-old now has a 3.09 ERA with 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 11 2/3 innings.

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS VS. GCL RAYS

(BOX)

Bryce Brentz, in his second GCL rehab game, went 0-for-2 and played left field for four innings. He’s 1-for-4 with a double in his two rehab games.

– Outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, in his second game following a promotion from the DSL, went 3-for-4 with a double. The 17-year-old now has 19 extra-base hits in 42 combined games between the GCL and DSL this year — an uncommon number for a player that young. Indeed, teammate Rafael Devers has 19 extra-base hits in his 43 games between the two levels (though whereas Basabe has yet to go deep, Devers has cleared the fences five times).

– Right-hander Brayan Villarreal, on the shelf since mid-April for Pawtucket, made his first appearance since April 13, working around three hits allowed to toss a scoreless inning.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 4-1 WIN AT DSL REDS

(BOX)

– Right-hander Gerson Bautista continued his impressive year, tossing six shutout innings in which he allowed four hits, punched out one and didn’t issue a walk. The 19-year-old has a microscopic 0.43 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 17 walks; opponents are hitting .133 against him. Somehow, despite the fact that he’s given up two earned runs in 42 innings, Thursday was his first win.

Roldani Baldwin, an 18-year-old who plays third and catches, added to a scorching July that has demonstrated uncommon power for the DSL. He went 2-for-4 with a homer — his fourth of the year and third of the month — and is now hitting .325/.404/.519 in 20 games in July. Though a bit old for the level at 18, he’s impressed evaluators with his swing and strength.

– Another intriguing 18-year-old, Jesus Perez, a raw, athletic player who is making his pro debut this year, hit his first career homer, going 1-for-3 and getting hit by a pitch. Given his inexperience in game settings (most of Perez’s baseball experience was spent preparing for the showcase circuit), the 6-foot-3 outfielder has made some positive impressions in hitting .250/.360/.405 in 24 games.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier
Kevin Millar joins Merloni, Fauria, and Benz to discuss David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia's struggles, and Jon Lester's contract.

[0:03:47] ... end of animal house yelling all is well as a relays to Jon Lester his contract negotiations. Boy I don't know you know whatever but wanting to know one thing we can't take aways tortured and an actual horse this Red Sox -- many years. You know I think we get spoiled. You know promote like in that New York Yankees premiere tomorrow where trot out the ball that Jon Lester Bennett or -- basic matchup -- every single place. Since he's been a part of Red Sox situation is we're not what ...
[0:04:38] ... Because if a player goes out there and produce the way that Jon Lester past. And he's it's like what David Price is the right call I am hoping that I would have felt as if it's -- he's been on a more he's property lefties in the big league all. And this is what goes on so I don't know you know I about the contract negotiation I -- the cigarette -- and Jon Lester you know that -- mercker -- You'll get Miller where you're at as far as you know when you -- -- -- ...
[0:06:25] ... That makes sense there what do you think really or all of Dustin Pedroia I mean or worth thinking that he's hurt I mean the production has been just been I guess nonexistent. So we're thinking that he's heard you think there's it's it's it's an injury issue that he just doesn't wanna come clean and discuss our -- More him just got to needing to get his timing back and just finding his rhythm again. Now I don't think we can make an excuse for Dustin Pedroia it's basically all year Amir have all year that this week in and everybody got -- -- at least start. We can't ...
[0:07:46] ... have to ask him -- no idea I'm -- around the clock Dustin Pedroia in there about the -- I'm just looking at straight up -- -- could show what you guys I'm looking at production ...






Former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar joined Middays with MFB on Friday to discuss David Ortiz‘s injury speculation, Jon Lester‘s contract talks and Dustin Pedroia‘s struggles.

Former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar joined Middays with MFB on Friday to discuss David Ortiz‘s injury speculation, Jon Lester‘s contract talks and Dustin Pedroia‘s struggles. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Kevin Millar

Kevin Millar

Ortiz left Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays in the ninth inning with spasms in his back while checking his swing and was listed as day-to-day by manager John Farrell. Since then, there’s been speculation about whether Ortiz faked the injury in order to avoid Rays pitcher David Price, who drilled Ortiz in their last matchup, leading to a heated exchange and a benches-clearing incident.

“That’s by no means in his makeup. Let’s get that straight. If anybody knows David Ortiz, that’s not his makeup,” Millar said. “This guy is not going to fake an injury because he’s scared of somebody. He’s been a bad man in that batter’s box since day one when he joined the Red Sox in 2003.

“Believe me, Price is probably just as happy he doesn’t have to face him.”

The Sox lost three of four to Toronto this week to fall back into last place in the American League East with just over a week before the trade deadline. Millar said it’s becoming clear the Red Sox will have to be sellers.

“I’d be really intrigued to see what goes on behind the scenes,” Millar said. “I’ve never been behind the scenes, I’ve never been in the front office, but I think you’re at a point now, 9 1/2 games is a tough, tough task. By any means can they go on a run of, say, 30-5? I don’t think this team is capable of doing so.

“You can’t sell out for the fans. But I think the writing is on the wall. They had a great run. They shocked the world last year with a World Series championship and it was a great run. This year things just haven’t come together. They’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot of non-productive seasons from different players.”

Red Sox officials have said on multiple occasions this week that the team and Lester have agreed to postpone contract negotiations until the end of the season. A source told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford this week that Lester would be open to productive in-season negotiations.

It’s just another chapter in what Millar has acknowledged has been a mess of a situation between the two sides this season.

“One thing we can’t take away is Lester has been an absolute horse for this team for many years,” Millar said. “I think we get spoiled. It’s like the New York Yankees for so many years with Mariano Rivera trotting out to the bullpen. Jon Lester has been a bona fide ace.

“I think that every single contract negotiation, when it doesn’t work out, it never ends in a funny, cozy, fuzzy way. … The price has gone up. This is why you sign early extensions because if the player goes out there and produces the way that Jon Lester has … I just know that Jon Lester and the Red Sox don’t seem like they’re close.”

While the Sox have struggled as a whole, Pedroia has had a particularly tough season, posting career lows in batting average (.269) and slugging percentage (.363). Millar said he doesn’t think there’s a hidden injury contributing to these struggles.

“I don’t think we’re going to make an excuse for Dustin Pedroia,” Millar said. “It’s basically an off year. You’re allowed to have off years in this league. Everybody has. Every star does.

“We can’t always look at it as an injury, as a crutch. I’m sure Dustin Pedroia doesn’t want that crutch either. He’s looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I stunk this year,’ if that’s the way he feels.

“I know one thing, he gives everything he has. But his production is down. The home runs are down, the average is down and that happens.”

Blog Author: 
Nick Canelas

What a difference three days can make.

Rays left-handers David Price will start in the series opener against the Red Sox Friday night. (AP)

Rays left-hander David Price will start in the series opener against the Red Sox on Friday night. (AP)

The Red Sox went into their four-game series in Toronto rolling. They had won six of their last seven games and had fans once again dreaming of a playoff push following a sweep of the Royals.

The streak reached its peak Monday with a 14-1 rout of their American League East rivals, and it was all downhill from there. The Sox lost the final three games of the series, capped off by an 8-0 loss Thursday afternoon in which they were no-hit through six innings.

The losses put the Red Sox all alone in the AL East cellar at 47-55, 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles and two games back of the fourth-place Rays, who the Sox play in a three-game series at Tropicana Field this weekend. It may have had an even bigger impact of the Red Sox’ approach to the July 31 trade deadline.

“I’€™m sure it’€™s going to have an impact on the type of trades that we make,” manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s game. “I will say this: I think there will be moves that will go on regardless of our record over the next seven days. All that will play out in due time.”

The Rays, on the other hand, come into the series playing their best baseball of the season. Tampa Bay has won seven straight games and 16 of its last 20, sneaking its way back into the playoff hunt. The Rays are 7 1/2 games back in the division and just 4 1/2 out of the wild card despite a middling 49-53 record.

Evan Longoria continues to be the leader of the Rays’ historically below-average lineup over the last half-decade. The third baseman leads the team in home runs (12), RBIs (50) and runs scored (54).

The pitching staff continues to be led by David Price, who has been at the center of trade talks this season. The rotation will also get a boost from Jeremy Hellickson, who will be called back up from the minor leagues to start for the Rays on Sunday, according to MLB.com. Hellickson has missed most of the season after getting elbow surgery in the winter. His only start for Tampa Bay this season came on July 8.

The Sox-Rays rivalry has been especially heated this season thanks to a pair of benches-clearing incidents and countless ejections. This weekend’s meeting may be tamed, however, with David Ortiz likely to miss some, if not all, of this series after suffering back spasms in Thursday’s game.

Here are the probable pitching matchups for the three-game series.

Friday: Jon Lester (10-7, 2.50 ERA) vs. David Price (10-7, 3.06 ERA)
Saturday: John Lackey (11-6, 3.66 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (6-5, 3.31 ERA)
Sunday: Jake Peavy (1-9, 4.72 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 2.08 ERA)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

– Whether contract talks are ongoing or not, Jon Lester continues to prove to the Red Sox he deserves to be paid like an ace. The lefty has shut out opponents in three of his last four starts, including a four-hitter over eight innings last Sunday against the Royals, and has allowed two runs or fewer in his last seven outings, all of which have been Red Sox wins.

Mike Napoli was riding a seven-game hitting streak before going 0-for-3 Thursday in Toronto, putting him at the team’s batting average lead at .276 for the season. Napoli is 9 for his last 23 with nine hits, five runs scored and a pair of home runs. He had three straight multi-hit games from June 18-21.

Shane Victorino has made a major impact at the plate since returning from a long injury rehab process last Saturday. Victorino has had a hit in every game since his return, hitting .421 with eight hits and three runs over five games.

WHO’S HOT: RAYS

– Price’s days with the Rays may be numbered, but he’s certainly made these last few starts count. The lefty has gone at least eight innings in seven of his last eight starts and hasn’t allowed an earned run in three of his last four. Price hasn’t allowed a run in his last 16 innings, surrendering just one walk to 14 strikeouts.

James Loney has swung a hot bat since returning from the All-Star break. The first baseman is hitting .450 with nine hits and three RBIs in his last 20 at-bats. Loney leads the team in batting average at .284.

WHO’S NOT: RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia finally snapped a four-game hitless streak with a single Wednesday, but he was not in the lineup for the series finale against the Blue jays. After seemingly finding his stroke in early July, the second baseman is hitting .083/.154/.083 in the six games since the All-Star break.

– Normally held to legendary status, Brock Holt has been very human since returning from the All-Star break. Holt is 6-for-26 since the break with two RBIs and three runs scored. Wednesday was the first time he was kept out of the lineup since his emergence two months earlier.

WHO’S NOT: RAYS

Ben Zobrist got off to a strong start in early July, but he appears to have been cooled off by the All-Star break. Zobrist was hitting .362 before the break but has a .105 average with two hits in the five games since.

– After three years in Oakland, Grant Balfour‘s 2014 return to Tampa Bay hasn’t been nearly as glorious as his first stint from 2007-10. Balfour has posted his highest ERA (5.40) and WHIP (1.58) since 2007.

Blog Author: 
Nick Canelas

The Red Sox will kick off a crucial three-game series against the Rays Friday at Tropicana Field, as both teams look to claw their way back up the division standings. Boston will send ace Jon Lester to the mound against David Price in the series opener.

Lester (10-7, 2.50 ERA) has been on another level for almost two months now, posting a 4-0 record with a minuscule 0.85 ERA over his last seven starts while not allowing an earned run in three of his last four starts.

In his last outing Sunday against the Royals, Lester was once again in control from the first pitch, holding the Kansas City lineup to just four hits over eight innings while striking out eight en route to a 6-0 Red Sox win.

“He’s been a model for others to witness as players get to that stage in their career,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell after the game. “I think in a professional manner, he’s been very forthright in not wanting [his contract negotiations] to be a distraction to his teammates or to us as a team. And he’s been able to go out and maintain that high level of focus.”

Lester was stellar in his last outing against the Rays on June 1, surrendering four hits and no runs over seven innings while striking out 12. In 27 career starts against the Rays, Lester is 13-9 with a 4.12 ERA.

Not to be outdone, Price (10-7, 3.06 ERA) has turned in yet another dominant campaign in 2014, leading the majors in both strikeouts (173) and innings pitched (155 2/3).

In his last outing Saturday against the Twins, Price allowed just four hits and no runs over eight innings, earning his fifth consecutive win in a 5-1 Rays victory.

Price has thrown at least eight innings in seven of his last eight starts and stated that he is pitching at a higher level now than he did in 2012 when he earned the American League Cy Young Award.

“I said that a month and a half ago. Six or seven starts ago,” Price said after his last game. “I’ve never been the pitcher that I am right now. … It’s cool. I enjoy it. I want to get better every day. I’m constantly looking for things to critique, to give hitters something else to think about. I’m just never satisfied.”

Price was solid in his last appearance against the Red Sox on May 30, surrendering two earned runs over seven innings while striking out six. In 22 career starts against Boston, Price is 10-6 with a 3.06 ERA.

That May 30 game was overshadowed by Price’s feud with David Ortiz, as Ortiz took exception to being hit by a pitch and the benches cleared.

Red Sox vs. Price (LHP)

Dustin Pedroia (59 plate appearances): .255/.356/.392, 1 home run, 11 strikeouts

David Ortiz (46): .225/.236/.300, 3 doubles, 5 RBIs

Mike Napoli (28): .259/.286/.444, 2 doubles, 15 strikeouts

Jonny Gomes (27): .167/.222/.208, 1 double, 7 strikeouts

Daniel Nava (22): .100/.143/.100, 2 singles, 8 strikeouts

Shane Victorino (21): .211/.286/.211, 4 singles, 2 walks

Stephen Drew has one walk and five strikeouts in 11 plate appearances against Price.

Xander Bogaerts (8): .500/.500/.625, 1 double, 1 RBI

Brock Holt has one single and five strikeouts in eight plate appearances against Price.

David Ross (8): .375/.375/1.125, 2 home runs, 2 RBIs

Mike Carp has one RBI and one strikeout in seven plate appearances against Carp.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has one single in six plate appearances against Carp.

Rays vs. Lester (LHP)

Evan Longoria (60): .245/.333/.472, 3 home runs, 19 strikeouts

Ben Zobrist (57): .176/.263/.275, 1 home run, 19 strikeouts

Yunel Escobar (42): .265/.366/.294, 1 double, 5 walks

Sean Rodriguez (34): .222/.353/.296, 2 doubles, 4 RBIs

Jose Molina (31): .321/.387/.357, 1 double, 8 strikeouts

Desmond Jennings (29): .333/.379/.593, 2 doubles, 7 strikeouts

Matthew Joyce (12): .364/.417/.909, 2 home runs, 6 RBIs

James Loney (12): .300/.417/.400, 1 double, 3 strikeouts

Logan Forsythe has two strikeouts in six plate appearances against Lester.

Brandon Guyer has two singles and one strikeout in five plate appearances against Lester.

Kevin Kiermaier has two strikeouts in three plate appearances against Lester.

Blog Author: 
Conor Ryan

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was given the day off Thursday. Maybe he should have a few more.



TIM BENZ

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