ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the Tampa Bay Rays finish a season-opening series with the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, is their quiet offense a function of strong Boston pitching, or something more to be concerned about?
“They’ve pitched really well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve seen three Cy Young Award winners. That’s challenging anytime you see that.”
The Rays won Thursday’s opener by getting all their scoring in a six-run eighth, but they’ve mustered only two runs in their other 26 innings, including a 3-2 loss on Saturday that dropped them to 1-2.
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One constant for Boston, beyond its solid starting pitching to open the season: Xander Bogaerts, who is 8-for-12 to open the season with four doubles and a home run. He went 3-for-4 on Saturday and has had a role in all of Boston’s runs this season.
Boston won’t have a Cy Young Award winner on the mound for Sunday’s series finale, with 29-year-old right-hander Hector Velazquez making his season debut. In his first season since coming to Boston from the Mexican League, Velazquez went 3-1 last year with a 2.92 ERA, and he did not face the Rays in any of his eight outings last year.
Tampa Bay counters with another second-year pitcher in 24-year-old right-hander Jacob Faria, who opened his major league career last season winning his first four decisions. The last of those came against Boston, holding the Red Sox to one run on four hits in six innings. He added three scoreless innings in a September relief outing against Boston, putting his career ERA vs. the Red Sox at 1.00.
Faria leveled off as a rookie and finished 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA in his first 16 games. With injuries decimating the Rays’ starting pitching options early, Faria is the No. 4 starter, and they’ll need him Sunday as they try to salvage a series split. Tampa Bay got solid outings from two young pitchers Saturday in starter Andrew Kettridge and reliever Ryan Yarbrough, who made his major league debut with four solid innings on a bullpen day.
The Rays got a promising spark Saturday from third baseman Matt Duffy, who had three hits and a stolen base as he eases into the huge hole left when Tampa Bay traded Evan Longoria to the Giants. Duffy missed last year with injury, but Saturday is the kind of production the Rays need from him.
Boston will need more balance from its batting order — as it stands, Bogaerts has more hits (eight) than the rest of the team combined. Andrew Benintendi is 0-for-11, and J.D. Martinez, a huge addition in the offseason, is still seeking his first RBI after three games with his new club.
If the Rays can salvage a split with a win Sunday, they’ll hit the road for their next eight games, including two against the Yankees starting Monday. Boston has two games in Miami before they get to Fenway Park to open their home schedule with three games against the Rays starting Thursday.