Rays look to recapture division lead vs. Red Sox

MLB Baseball

The Tampa Bay Rays broke their seven-game losing streak Wednesday night and now will look to climb back into first place in the American League East when they host the Boston Red Sox in the finale of their three-game series on Thursday.

The Rays moved to within a half-game of AL East-leading Boston with an 8-2 win — using three home runs, five solid innings of starting pitching and four strong frames of relief to lock down their first victory since June 14 in Chicago over the White Sox.

This will be the sixth meeting this season between Boston and Tampa Bay, with the Red Sox winning the first four.

On Wednesday night, each team mustered just six hits, with half of the base knocks going for extra bases. The teams also combined to walk 15 times, strike out on 21 occasions and strand 20 runners on the bases.

“We needed it,” said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash of the skid-ending victory. “We were starting to feel it. We’re a good team that’s gone through a tough stretch.”

Seven of the Rays’ eight tallies were scored via home run — a three-run shot by Brandon Lowe and two-run blasts by Austin Meadows and Mike Zunino.

“The home runs helped us out a lot,” Cash said. “We continued to find (at-bats) to separate the game.”

The Rays are 14-3 in their past 17 games against division opponents.

Coming off a 77-pitch losing effort Friday in Seattle, Michael Wacha (1-2, 5.19) will get the start Thursday night and try to rebound after a rough outing. He surrendered five runs and 11 hits in just 3 2/3 innings against the Mariners.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two career starts against the Red Sox.

Dynamic infielder Wander Franco made his first start at shortstop in place of fellow rookie Taylor Walls (right wrist soreness) and went hitless but had productive at-bats — walking twice and scoring a run.

Wednesday’s loss was just Boston’s third in its past 11 road games.

In the series finale, the club will send out Nick Pivetta, who has a 6-3 record and a 4.36 ERA over 14 starts in his second season with the Red Sox.

April and May produced a 6-0 record, but in June, Pivetta has lost three times and received a no-decision in a June 7 win against the Miami Marlins. In 20 2/3 innings pitched this month, he has surrendered 13 runs — all earned — and 22 hits. His ERA for the month is 5.66 ERA.

After yielding four home runs in his first 11 starts, the right-hander has given up six in his past three outings.

Pivetta, 28, said the key is simply being a little sharper with his offerings.

“I think it’s just limiting those (mistake) pitches and making sure that they’re more crisp, in a sense,” Pivetta said.

The Canada native has made one career appearance against the Rays — April 5 in his first start — and earned the win with five innings of two-hit, shutout ball. He struck out four and walked four.

–Field Level Media

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