Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
TAMPA – The Boston Red Sox are the first team in the major leagues to reach the 90-win mark this season, and they start the push toward 100 when they open a three-game series against the host Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. The American League East-leading Red Sox are coming off a four-game set against AL Central-leading Cleveland in which they scored 17 runs while winning the final two contests.
Boston’s Xander Bogaerts had a strong showing in the series against the Indians as he went 6-for-19 with two homers, two doubles and eight RBIs. Slugger J.D. Martinez recorded three RBIs in the series but didn’t go deep and ranks second in the majors with 38 blasts. Tampa Bay has won five consecutive contests after notching a walk-off 4-3 win over Kansas City on Thursday, courtesy of a ninth-inning throwing error by Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. Mallex Smith went 3-for-4 with two doubles on Thursday and is a torrid 16-for-36 with one homer and four two-base hits over his last eight games.
TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, NESN (Boston), FS Sun (Tampa Bay)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Red Sox RH Hector Velazquez (7-1, 2.74 ERA) vs. Rays RH Diego Castillo (3-2, 3.47)
Velazquez suffered his first setback of the season after allowing one run and three hits over four innings in a start against the Rays on Sunday. The 29-year-old, who also has made 31 relief appearances, is 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA in five turns this season. Velazquez has gone 3-0 with a 2.87 ERA in 19 road appearances (two starts) this year.
Castillo is serving as the “opener” for the second time in less than a week as the Rays continue their trend of beginning games with relief pitchers. The 24-year-old started Sunday’s contest against Boston and gave up one hit over 1 2/3 scoreless innings, departing after throwing 19 pitches. Castillo is unscored upon in five straight outings – a stretch of 7 1/3 frames – and has allowed just four hits over his last eight appearances.
1. Red Sox 1B Mitch Moreland departed Thursday’s game with a bruised knee and will be re-evaluated prior to the series opener.
2. Tampa Bay 3B Matt Duffy has recorded back-to-back two-hit performances after enduring a 3-for-28 funk over his previous eight contests.
3. Boston RF Mookie Betts, who leads the majors with a .340 batting average, is mired in a 13-game power drought and hasn’t driven in a run in seven straight contests.