Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 6, Rays 4

April, 15, 2012

BOSTON -- Remember when it seemed as if David Ortiz would never have a good start again? He was so putrid out of the gate for three years in a row, all as he plowed into his mid-30s, that each slow start seemed to portend the downside of a career.

Then there was 2011. The Boston Red Sox slugger didn’t exactly light the world on fire, but he held his own last April (.267 average, 15 walks), setting the stage for his best season at the plate since 2007.

Red SoxRaysIf Ortiz follows any sort of pattern in 2012, you can expect some pretty gaudy numbers. After a 4-for-5 effort Saturday, Ortiz had a hit in his first three at-bats in Sunday’s 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. The third, an RBI double in the sixth, gave him seven straight hits and lifted his batting average at the time to .457.

Not bad for a guy who once eyed April as if it was his kryptonite.

Not quite King Felix: A glass-half-full approach to Felix Doubront’s start would focus on the fact that he held the Rays scoreless through the first four innings, struck out a career-high seven men and issued just one walk. Those with a more negative outlook on things will mention the middle innings, when Doubront struggled to keep the ball down and was hammered for it.

Over his final two-plus innings, Doubront gave up seven hits, including a home run and three doubles. One of those doubles was a two-run job by Carlos Pena that came moments after a drive that sailed just foul past the Pesky Pole (an official review upheld the initial ruling). Nothing but a strike in the books, but boy was it belted.

Doubront seems to have what it takes to be successful, but he has yet to show that he can last deep into major league games. He has lasted exactly five innings in three of his five career starts. In the other two he went 5 2/3 and 4 2/3 innings.

Valentine said before the game that he expects Doubront to become more economical as umpires see him more often, give him an extra strike here or there and force hitters to be a bit more aggressive. Ninety-six pitches in five-plus innings suggests there’s more work to be done on that end.

Rays pitching? What Rays pitching? The reason Tampa Bay was able to erase such a massive deficit with the Red Sox last September was its far superior starting pitching. The disparity in rotations still seemed to exist when this series began, Rays starters sporting an ERA almost half of Boston’s, which was 6.68 entering Friday.

That’s no longer the case. David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore combined to give up 14 runs in 14 1/3 innings over the last three days. The bullpen did not fare any better for Joe Maddon’s bunch; it has surrendered 17 runs in 9 2/3 innings so far.

Who needs Ellsbury? In the long run, the Red Sox do. However, the club has reacted to Ellsbury’s absence as if he was the lone cause for their early-season struggles at the plate. In fact, in 60 offensive innings with Ellsbury in the lineup, Boston scored 26 runs, or roughly one every 2 1/3 innings. Since Ellsbury left the home opener on Friday after four innings, the Sox have plated 27 runs in 20 offensive innings. You don’t need an abacus to know that that is a significant improvement.

And who needs Iglesias? Someday, they might. Right now the debate of Jose Iglesias vs. Mike Aviles is nothing more than a memento for anyone who considers Red Sox Spring Training 2012 as a nostalgic time in their lives. Aviles is not only making every routine play at shortstop but he’s finding time to sprinkle in a gem or two. Such was the case in the fourth inning when he ended a Rays threat.

Tampa Bay had a runner on second with two outs when Sean Rodriguez ripped a shot up the middle that had RBI single written all over it. Aviles showed great range in racing over and making a diving stop in shallow center field before alertly throwing behind the runner rounding third base. That runner was Jeff Keppinger, who immediately realized he was a goner. The putout went 6-5-2-5 with Keppinger offering up little resistance in the ensuing rundown.

Aviles doesn’t need to win the Gold Glove. He simply needs to be steady. So far that’s been the case. Oh, and he added a solo homer in the seventh to cap the scoring, his second in as many days.

Patriot Games: Valentine was asked prior to Sunday’s game if he remembers ever bringing his Texas Rangers to Fenway for a Patriots’ Day game, which is on deck for Monday morning. “I think. I’d have to look it up,” he said.

If he looked it up he would find that the answer is yes. It was 1988, Valentine’s fourth year as Rangers manager, and the game ended in somewhat odd fashion. Texas forged a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth when a Lee Smith offering got past Rick Cerone with a runner on third. It went into the books as a passed ball on Cerone and it allowed Scott Fletcher to score the tying run.

However, Mitch Williams issued a leadoff walk to Wade Boggs in the bottom of the ninth, which preceded a double by Jim Rice and a game-winning sacrifice fly by Mike Greenwell. That was three months before Joe Morgan took over for John McNamara and led the ’88 Sox on a magical ride to the division title.

James Shields opposes Daniel Bard in the annual late-morning start on Monday. If you are coming to the park bring your sunblock and battery-operated fan. Temperatures could approach 90. In mid-April.



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