ST. PETERSBURG -- The co-aces came out blazing for the Red Sox in the first two games of the season, and Rick Porcello reminded everyone Saturday night at Tropicana Field that he, too, can be a front-line pitcher.Looking much more like the pitcher who won the American League Cy Young
ST. PETERSBURG -- The co-aces came out blazing for the Red Sox in the first two games of the season, and Rick Porcello reminded everyone Saturday night at Tropicana Field that he, too, can be a front-line pitcher.
Looking much more like the pitcher who won the American League Cy Young Award two years ago than the one that stumbled and lost six more games than he won last year, Porcello lifted Boston to a 3-2 victory.
With clear bite to his sinker and a nice mix of his secondary stuff, Porcello scattered six hits over 5 1/3 innings while giving up just one run that scored after he left the game. He had a walk and four strikeouts.
"The way Chris [Sale] set the tone to start the year and David [Price] last night, I wanted to obviously keep the ball rolling and do my job," said Porcello, who went 11-17 last year.
Xander Bogaerts once again did his job, raking three hits, including a solo homer, and driving in two runs. The shortstop is 8-for-12 this season, with all but one of the hits going for extra-bases.
While Bogaerts is the first hitter to truly get on track for Boston thus far, the rotation is in complete rhythm. In the first three games, the starters have allowed just one run over 18 1/3 innings.
"We were expecting that," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "There's a reason we wanted to take care of them [in Spring Training]. We know how good they are. We have good years, bad years. With Rick, I'm glad in his first start he was able to perform this way. That's what we expect from them. Not only from those three but the rest of the guys. We understand this rotation can be special. They're working at it."
Porcello worked all spring to rediscover his sinker and create more separation from his four-seamer.
At least for one start, there was payoff.
"Basically the only thing I have to go by is the hitters and the contact that they're making," Porcello said.
Though the final margin of victory was slim thanks to a Carlos Gomez solo homer in the eighth, the Red Sox never trailed, taking the lead for good on the homer by Bogaerts.
Relievers Richard Hembree, Bobby Poyner and Carson Smith bridged the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel, who pinned down his second save in as many nights.
Sure, it's early. But the Red Sox feel mighty confident about their pitching.
"Those guys have been lights-out," Bogaerts said. "Even our bullpen, I mean, our bullpen came in and they're getting outs. We know we have a lot of great hitters on this team that are going to heat up pretty quick. It's going to be really fun once that starts all clicking together, because right now the pitching is really keeping us in the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Red-hot X goes deep: Bogaerts has been Boston's best hitter to start the season, and the shortstop stayed hot by launching a solo shot to left to break a scoreless tie in the second. It was the sixth hit for Bogaerts in his first nine at-bats of the season, and five of those have gone for extra bases. According to Statcast™, the shot had an exit velocity of 105 mph, a 23-degree launch angle and a projected distance of 392 feet. Bogaerts became the first player in Red Sox history to have multiple extra-base hits in the first three games of the season, and just the second to do it in MLB during the last 100 years, joining Adrian Gonzalez, who performed the feat for the Dodgers in 2015.
"He's himself right now and he's feeling good," Porcello said. "He's doing what he knows he can do when he's healthy. It's awesome to see him playing free and smiling, and that's what he's doing, so just keep it going."
Poyner gets a big first out: Cora went to Poyner in a big spot in the bottom of the seventh. With left-handed batter Kevin Kiermaier representing the tying run, Poyner, a lefty reliever, came on for his Major League debut. In a five-pitch at-bat, Poyner induced Kiermaier into a weak popup to third to end the inning and preserve Boston's 3-1 lead. Poyner had not pitched above Double-A before Saturday's debut. Things didn't go as well in the eighth, when the lefty served up a solo homer to Carlos Gomez to slim the lead to a run.
"It was exciting," said Poyner, of making his debut in such a big spot. "It was obviously everything you dream of growing up. It was awesome. It was incredible."
Stealing an opportunity: When you think of Hanley Ramirez, baserunning isn't what comes to mind at this stage of his career. But the DH stole third with two outs in the fourth, and wound up scoring later in the inning on a throwing error by Matt Duffy.
"Pay attention to details," Cora said. "That's important. We talk about winning games and stealing games. I don't want to say we stole this one, but that was a big stolen base by Hanley. Give credit to him. He didn't have a great offensive day. He was out in front the whole time. But he hustled on that one and put the pressure on the defense, so that was good to see."
"[Cora]'s smart, man. He's really smart. We played the Astros the other day in Spring Training, and I mean, players are even telling you, 'He's a smart guy. He's probably one of the smartest guys in baseball.' I'm thankful to have him on our team to help guide us and help be there when we want to learn some stuff from him, because he's been around the game a long time." -- Bogaerts
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The only Red Sox player since 1908 to have more hits than the eight by Bogaerts in the first three games of the season is Ira Flagstead, who had 11 in the first three games in 1926.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Rays challenged in the ninth when Mookie Betts was called safe while trying to steal second. After a review of 1 minute, 12 seconds, the call was overturned for the second out.
Third baseman Rafael Devers will be back in the lineup on Sunday after getting a day of rest from the Tropicana Field turf. The lefty slugger had RBI hits in the first two games. Hector Velazquez, a righty whose contract the Red Sox purchased from the Mexican League last year, will make the start. First pitch of the finale of this four-game series is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. ET.
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Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.