Josh Beckett will try to start the second half of the year on a positive note as he takes the mound for the Boston Red Sox in the finale of their three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Beckett finished the first half of the season with a 4-7 record and 4.43 ERA after he yielded six or more runs in three separate starts and spent time on the disabled list. The former World Series MVP was at the center of some controversy when he decided to go golfing in May when he missed a start due to a strained lat muscle.
Beckett allowed six runs on eight hits, walking two and striking out five over five innings versus the Yankees on July 6, which was his last appearance.
"It was tough, just rhythm-wise," said Beckett after his last start. "I was battling myself, especially in the first inning. I kind of sped up my mechanics there in the middle innings, and at least out of the windup, it made a difference. The stretch was still pretty tough."
The good news for the right-hander is that he is 10-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 21 career starts versus the Rays.
Boston dropped a 5-3 decision to Tampa Bay on Saturday after winning the series opener the day before. Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-for-4 at the plate in his second game back from the 60-day disabled list. Pedro Ciriaco's hot streak came to an end as he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, but David Ortiz did manage to drive in his team-leading 58th RBI and extend his current hitting streak to nine games.
Adrian Gonzalez missed his second straight game due to a stiff back. He is listed as doubtful for the series finale.
Tampa Bay rolled on Saturday as David Price won his American League-leading 12th game by going a solid 7 1/3 innings to help keep the Rays 8 1/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees. Tampa Bay's offense, which hit a franchise-worst .232 before the All-Star break, managed to score more than four runs for just the fourth time in the past 16 games.
"We just have got to try and find a way," Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings said. "It came down to some little stuff, little things that we did. Price went out and pitched real good for us, too. It was good for him to get that win. You just gotta find a way to score some runs, and tonight we did it."
James Shields will take the hill in today's rubber match for Tampa Bay. The right-hander gave up four earned runs on 10 hits in seven innings versus Cleveland his last time out. Shields is 8-5 with a 4.17 ERA in 2012, but he is 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA in 22 career starts against Boston.
Despite a decent offensive outing from the Rays on Saturday, there is still much to improve on. Carlos Pena went 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts for the second game in a row. Ben Zobrist also went hitless in Saturday's win. B.J. Upton hit a solo home run in the victory, but he is still just 1-for-12 with six strikeouts in his last three games.
Jeff Keppinger was the only Rays player with multiple hits in the win as he went 2-for-3 with two doubles and the same number of runs scored. He has a career batting average of .429 versus Beckett.
Tampa Bay's designated hitter Luke Scott is 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in the series so far, but he is 11-for-27 with three home runs off Beckett in his career.
The Red Sox have won six of their 11 matchups with the Rays this season.