Red Sox-Rays Preview
By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- A string of impressive pitching performances is helping the Boston Red Sox make their recent struggles a distant memory.
As they seek to match their longest win streak of the season, the Red Sox will try to get a better outing from Clay Buchholz, or at least continue to provide the right-hander with some of the most generous run support in the majors Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Boston has outscored opponents 34-8 over its five consecutive victories and allowed only three runs over the last four of those wins. Josh Beckett, at the center of some recent controversy, threw seven innings in Tuesday's 5-0 home win over Seattle and the Red Sox's bullpen didn't allow a run for the third straight game.
Beckett was reportedly accompanied by Buchholz during a golf outing earlier this month that came one day after he was scratched from a scheduled start due to a sore muscle in his back.
Mike Aviles provided a pair of RBI doubles and David Ortiz drove in a run for a fourth consecutive game with a solo homer.
"We're going to bring some positive around here," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We've been playing good so we've just got to keep it rolling."
Another lackluster outing from Buchholz (4-1, 8.31 ERA) might not help the Red Sox (17-19) in their quest to match a six-game run from April 23-28. The right-hander has the highest ERA and highest opponent batting average (.337) among qualifying major leaguers.
Buchholz, though, has also been given the most runs per nine innings in the majors (9.69) and received seven runs over his 6 1-3 innings in a 7-5 victory over Cleveland on Friday. He allowed a season-low four runs, eight hits and three walks in 6 1-3 innings.
"It still wasn't easy," Buchholz told the team's website. "Once again there were always runners on base."
Buchholz gave up five runs over seven innings to Tampa Bay on April 14 but got the win in a 13-5 rout at Fenway Park. He's 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA in his last four matchups with the Rays and 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in his last four starts at Tropicana Field.
He might have to have a similar outing to outduel Jeremy Hellickson (3-0, 2.95), who hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since facing Boston last month.
The right-hander, though, hasn't gotten a decision in his last three outings. He gave up three runs and five hits over 6 2-3 innings Friday in Baltimore but the Orioles rallied for a 4-3 win.
Hellickson gave up five runs over five innings while pitching opposite Buchholz on April 14 with Pedroia, Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia driving in all of those on home runs.
The Red Sox won three of four during that series but were swept in three games in their most recent visit to Tropicana, part of a September swoon that helped Tampa Bay claim the AL wild card.
The Rays (23-14) return home after winning three in a row to end an eight-game road trip after dropping six of seven. Sean Rodriguez's home run sparked a three-run seventh inning Tuesday as Tampa Bay rallied for a 4-3 win in Toronto.
"We could have easily gone 1-7 on this road trip," pitcher David Price said. "I feel like that was a pretty good road trip for us, especially with us dealing with the injuries that we're dealing with right now."
Outfielder Desmond Jennings (left knee) is among the eight players on the disabled list for Tampa Bay, including Evan Longoria whose game-ending homer Sept. 28 at Tropicana officially ended Boston's playoff hopes.
Updated May 16, 2012