Martin Perez confidently predicted he’d pitch well against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, saying the day before that he had gained better command of his pitches after two uneven starts to open the season.
When Yandy Diaz cracked a double to right field leading off the bottom of the first, those words seemed hollow.
But Perez dodged trouble for five innings and the bullpen was even better as the Red Sox put together a 5-0 victory at Tropicana Field to snap a four-game losing streak.
Perez allowed four hits, walked three, and threw 91 pitches. He was inelegantly effective.
“He keeps you on edge a little bit,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “But he makes a big pitch when he needs to.”
Perez (2-1) had an effective four-pitch mix and maintained his composure out of the stretch. The Sox turned two double plays behind him.
“The key was I didn’t lose my focus with runners on base,” Perez said. “I was able to throw the pitches that I wanted where I wanted to.”
Michael Chavis and Alex Verdugo each hit two-run home runs as the 4-8 Sox finished their road trip 3-4. They open a seven-game homestand on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Perez and four relievers combined on the team’s first shutout since last Aug. 23 at San Diego. They allowed four hits, struck out 11, and walked five.
Sox pitchers retired 12 of the last 13 Rays and didn’t give up a hit after the fifth inning. Colten Brewer, Austin Brice, Matt Barnes, and Brandon Workman followed Perez to the mound.
The Sox came into the game with a 5.78 earned run average, second-worst in the American League. It was chopped down to 5.28.
The Rays (5-7) have lost six of seven.
Roenicke came up with a unique lineup, benching both Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. against lefthander Ryan Yarbrough.
That wasn’t something the Sox envisioned before the season.
“I probably didn’t think that would happen at all,” Roenicke said.
Jose Peraza, usually the second baseman, started in left field for the first time this season. Jonathan Arauz, who had five at-bats in the previous 11 games, started at second.
The jigsaw puzzle lineup worked, although it took some time.
Yarbrough didn’t give up a run until the fourth inning when Chavis singled with two outs and Verdugo homered to right field.
The RBIs were Verdugo’s first of the season and the home run was his first extra-base hit with the Sox.
“It felt amazing, man,” Verdugo said. “It’s pretty obvious a lot of us are going through it right now, trying to find our swings … It felt good to stay on one, to stay through it and to get one out.”
Verdugo went nearly a calendar year between games because of a back injury. That layoff was reflected in his lack of power to start the season.
“Not doing very much and jumping straight into games was hard,” Verdugo said. “Little things in your swing break down whether you know it or not … my timing was super late.”
Yarbrough (0-2) didn’t get an out in the sixth inning.
Xander Bogaerts led off with a double to center and scored when Christian Vazquez pulled a single into left field. Chavis followed with a 421-foot homer to center field. The ball knocked down a cardboard cutout of a fan. Chavis would have won a stuffed animal for doing that at a carnival.
“Maybe it’ll get delivered to my locker,” Chavis said.
Chavis came into the game 3 for 21 with nine strikeouts. He felt better than the numbers showed but needed results to back that up. A 3-for-4 night did that.
“If you go through a slump it’s going to be amplified because of a short season,” Chavis said. “But it wasn’t really something I was keyed in on. I felt pretty good and I felt like I was having decent at-bats.”
Perez earned that run support His big escape came in the fourth inning. With the Sox up, 2-0, Jose Martinez led off with a double before Hunter Renfroe drew a walk. Perez came back to retire the next three batters, ending the inning with a swinging strikeout of Wily Adames on a cutter.
“Throw strikes. I always have in my mind they’re not going to score runs on me,” Perez said. “I have to compete.”