clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Hector Velazquez shuts down the Rays

The Red Sox pitching has been incredible to start 2018

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox are not exactly firing on all cylinders to start the year, but that’s not to be expected. It’s a long season that will feature ups and downs for all areas of the roster, and a big part of the marathon that is a baseball season is one group of guys picking up another. To start the year, the offense hasn’t been great. They’ve gotten on base some, but much like last year they haven’t been able to capitalize. As you’ll see, they struggled mightily in this one to come through in big situations. Fortunately, the starting pitching has been absolutely tremendous all year, and that continued on Sunday. This time it was Hector Velazquez, and Red Sox starters have now allowed two runs over their first four starts. Seems good!

For as spectacular as the pitching has been early this year — and make no mistake, it’s been otherworldly — the offense has been mighty frustrating. In the first three games of the year, Xander Bogaerts was able to carry the load and sort of hide some of the frustration, but overall the group hasn’t been up to par with what we were hoping for. Obviously, being just four games into the season, I’m not saying it’s time to panic or anything. It just hasn’t been a blast to watch is all. Sunday included plenty of baserunners as the Red Sox were able to work counts and smack some base hits against Jacob Faria and the Rays bullpen. Those runners spent a lot of time on the bases, though, without being able to come back to the dugout. The Red Sox stranded a lot of guys in scoring position is what I’m trying to say here.

It started early on, as Boston had Mookie Betts lead off the game by reaching on a base hit — hit first of four times on base in this game — and he’d get to second on a stolen base. J.D. Martinez struck out and Bogaerts flew out to strand him there. In the second, Jackie Bradley Jr. drew a two-out walk, and then he stole second before Blake Swihart drew a start of his own. Brock Holt couldn’t come through, though, stranding them both.

After a third inning in which they merely stranded a runner at first — and also found themselves suddenly down 1-0 — they got right back to it in the fourth. This time, Bradley once again reached with two outs, and Swihart followed it up with a base hit to give Holt another chance. The infielder couldn’t come through, though, stranding two more runners.

Meanwhile, Velazquez was countering by holding the Rays off the board as much as possible. He had a strong first inning in which he set Tampa down in order, though one out came on a very loud flyball from Kevin Kiermaier. The second inning was the one rough patch for the Red Sox righty. The frame started with Velazquez trying to sneak an up-and-in fastball past Brad Miller, but it caught too much of the plate and the Rays first baseman smashed it into the seats in right field to break the 0-0 tie. Tampa followed that up with two-well hit singles before Velazquez escaped the jam with just the one run scoring in the inning.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After that, Velazquez cruised. He was set to face the top of the order for the third, and he struck them all out. Perhaps even more impressively, he struck them all out on fastballs, a pitch that was working wonders for him in this outing and looks much improved from last year. He’d allow a couple more baserunners in the fourth without allowing a run before taking the Rays down in order in the fifth. Velazquez came back out for the sixth but was lifted after recording two outs and allowing one baserunner. Overall, the righty allowed just the one run over 5 23 innings with five strikeouts to just one walk. The expectations weren’t terribly high coming into the game, but he came through and continued a dominant start to the year for the Red Sox rotation.

So, it was up to the offense to get out of their funk and actually come through with some big swings to support their starting pitcher. They finally did that to an extent in the fifth. Trailing 1-0, Betts led off the inning with a single and that was immediately followed by a Rafael Devers walk to put two on with nobody out. Martinez didn’t let this chance pass him by as the slugger smacked a single into left field to knock Betts in and give Martinez his first RBI in a Red Sox uniform, and the Red Sox still had two on with nobody out in a tied game. The Rays turned to their bullpen, and left-hander Jose Alvardo set down Bogaerts, Mitch Moreland and Christian Vazquez to end the inning. The final out came on a tremendous diving stop by Tampa second baseman Joey Wendle as the Rays played frustratingly great defense all series long.

In the sixth, the Red Sox got going again. Bradley led it off with a single and that was followed by a Holt walk and a Betts hit-by-pitch to load the bases with one out. Devers had another big hit with runners in scoring position, and he’s been the most reliable hitter on the team in these situations in 2018’s opening series. Bradley scored easily on the play, but new third base coach Carlos Febles made a horrible decision to try to send Holt around to home as well, and Holt was out by a mile. It was a rough choice in any situation, but particularly questionable with Martinez coming up. Martinez would then hit a line drive that looked good for his second RBI in a Red Sox uniform before some more great Rays defense. This time, Mallex Smith robbed a base hit with a tremendous diving grab.

So, it was up to the Red Sox bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead and make sure only one of the team’s starters was robbed of a victory to start the year. Marcus Walden got the call first, taking over for Velazquez with a runner on first and two outs in the sixth. In his major-league debut, Walden immediately allowed a hard-hit double to the right field corner from Wendle, but the Rays played it conservatively and held Matt Duffy at third base on a play he had a chance to score on. That paid off for Boston, as Walden escaped the jam with a flyout to end the inning. The righty then got through a 1-2-3 seventh, though it involved some hard contact right at his defense.

Bobby Poyner then came out to start the eighth against the left-handed Kiermaier and induced a flyout on one pitch. That was all he’d have to do as Alex Cora would then call upon Matt Barnes. The righty struck out Carlos Gomez to start the outing before walking Miller on four pitches. Duffy then came up with the tying run at first, and after fighting off some tough pitches he finally succumbed to Barnes’ stuff and the Red Sox got out of it with the lead in tact.

After his hitters went down in order in the top half of the ninth, Cora called upon Joe Kelly to close out the one-run game in his first outing since his meltdown on Opening Day. After a couple of quick outs in which Kelly looked great, things started to get hairy. Mallex Smith ripped a fastball into right field for a single, and then Adeiny Hechavarria single through the middle to put runners on the corners for Opening Day hero Denard Span. After working a tough 3-2 count, Span chased ball four to strike out, end the game and give Kelly his first career save. It was frustrating at times, but with another tremendous pitching performance the Red Sox have won three of four to start 2018.

So, the first series is in the books and the Red Sox came out victorious. Now, they head even further south to take on the Marlins in Miami with some dumb and bad NL rules. They’ll send Brian Johnson to the mound on Monday to face Trevor Richards, taking the mound for Miami. First pitch comes at 7:10 PM ET.