Red Sox face tough challenge against Rays' Price

The Boston Red Sox will have their work cut out for them this evening, as they go up against David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays in the second game of a three-game set at Tropicana Field.

Price is tied for third in the majors with 11 wins this season. The young left-hander returns from the All-Star Game to make his 18th start of the season. His last time out was on July 4, when he held the division-leading Yankees to one run on four hits in seven innings that resulted in a no- decision.

The southpaw is 6-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 career starts versus Boston. He was in control in his last meeting with the Red Sox on May 26, but closer Fernando Rodney allowed a two-run walk off home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia that cost both the team and Price the win and gave Boston a 3-2 decision.

Price will hope to fair much better than Jeremy Hellickson (4-6), who lost his sixth straight decision after allowing three runs on five hits and four walks in six-plus innings on Friday night. Tampa Bay did not manage to get on the board until the sixth inning in its 3-1 loss in the series opener.

"We only gave up three runs," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We have to do better offensively."

The Rays are now 5-10 in their last 15 games. As a team, Tampa went 6-for-33 at the plate, 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and struck out 11 times while leaving 12 on base. Tampa Bay is 28th in the MLB with a team batting average of .232, yet it is still within striking distance in the American League East race at 8 1/2 games behind New York.

Clay Buchholz will make his return to the mound tonight for Boston. The right- hander has not started since June 19 and spent five days in the hospital with gastrointestinal bleeding. Buchholz has picked up a winning decision in each of his last four starts to improve his 2012 record to 8-2.

Buchholz is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts at Tropicana Field and 5-3 in 11 starts overall against the Rays.

The Red Sox offense received a boost on Friday as Jacoby Ellsbury made his return from the 60-day disabled list to lead off for the Red Sox. Although he struggled and went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts, Boston managed to find enough offense elsewhere in the lineup to begin its post All-Star break.

Pedro Ciriaco has been magnificent filling in for Dustin Pedroia at second base. He has gone 10-for-16 with two doubles, six RBI, and three stolen bases in four games since being recalled from Triple-A last week. Ciriaco did not let the break slow him down as he went 3-for-3 with two RBI and another stolen base in the series opener on Friday.

"It's a good feeling. We got the win, and everything's about that. I feel happy to do a little bit to help the team," said Ciriaco. "It's huge for me. Every time I get a chance to wear the uniform is another opportunity for me."

Ciriaco is not the only Red Sox player on a hot streak. David Ortiz hit a solo home run on Friday to give his team an early lead. He has hit .380 with five home runs over the last 15 games and currently has an eight-game hitting streak in the works. Ortiz leads the team in batting average, home runs, RBI, and runs.

Adrian Gonzalez did not play on Friday due to back stiffness. The late decision to scratch the power hitting first baseman from the lineup was a precautionary move by manager Bobby Valentine. Gonzalez is probable for Saturday.

Boston, which is fourth in the American League East standings, trails the Rays by a game going into Saturday. Tampa Bay is just one-half game behind the Orioles for second in the division.

The Red Sox have won six of their 10 matchups with the Rays this season.