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Nick Cafardo | on baseball

Rays’ pitching has flustered the Red Sox

Tampa Bay used a traditional starting pitcher Saturday with Ryan Yarbrough taking the mound against the Red Sox.
Tampa Bay used a traditional starting pitcher Saturday with Ryan Yarbrough taking the mound against the Red Sox.Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — We know that Tampa Bay Rays pitching has eaten the Red Sox alive this weekend, but Rick Porcello certainly gave the most poignant rebuke of himself and his teammates after Saturday’s 5-1 loss.

It was refreshing because for the first time this season the Red Sox need a kick in the pants and Porcello gave it.

”It started with me, but we didn’t play a good ballgame tonight,” Porcello said. “It was sloppy all-around. I had two walks, two hit batters, traffic on the bases. Those are things I could have prevented if I was a little bit sharper. The ballclub didn’t play a very clean ballgame tonight and we lost. We had some runners on base.

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“At the end of the day, we didn’t take it to them and they took it to us and that’s not usually the case with us.’’

With a team almost 50 games over .500, you just don’t hear that type of talk. But the Red Sox are losing ground. The Yankees won a doubleheader over Baltimore and have reduced the Red Sox’ lead to six games in the loss column.

The Red Sox can’t afford to get caught up in how great the Rays’ pitching philosophy is, but the hitters have seemed psyched out by it. On Sunday they’ll end the series having to oppose Blake Snell, a Cy Young candidate who is going for his 16th win.

Once again on Saturday night, the Rays outpitched the Red Sox. Porcello certainly wasn’t horrible in being tagged for three runs over five innings, but in the sixth in a 1-1 game he allowed a triple to .198 hitting Kevin Kiermaier and then hit Willie Adames with a pitch. Rays outfielder Carlos Gomez started yelling at Porcello from the dugout as Porcello was lifted.

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The Red Sox have to be careful that they don’t fall into a stupor as they approach the final month of the season. Porcello’s words seemed well-timed.

At the very least, the Rays, who are 7-11 against the Red Sox but 6-5 after a 1-6 start against them, are AL East spoilers. Mookie Betts has fallen into a slump — his 6 for 38 has allowed teammate J.D. Martinez to catch him for the league’s batting lead, .337 to .335.

Whether it’s the traditional style the Rays used Saturday night or the nuance of an “opener” and then going to a “headliner” or longer-term starter for the middle innings, Red Sox hitters had a tough time with a bunch of no-name pitchers who are nasty.

Lefty Ryan Yarbrough went five innings (allowing five hits and one run) and then the Rays went to a traditional bullpen rotation to stuff the Red Sox the remainder of the game. Yarbrough, who has 12 wins, had usually been coming in after the “opener.” This time he was the opener and the headliner.

The Rays’ methods have worked even though they traded away Chris Archer (to Pittsburgh), Nathan Eovaldi (to the Red Sox), and closer Alex Colome (to the Mariners).

On the Rays’ depth chart they list two starters — Snell and Tyler Glasnow, who was acquired in the Archer deal. The rest of the starts have been made by relievers such as Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek, Yonny Chirinos, and Diego Castillo.

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The Rays then bring in a “headliner,” a guy such as Yarbrough or Jake Faria to create a contrast.

It also avoids the “headliner” facing a lineup three times which is when most starting pitchers start to fade, according to the analytical data the Rays use to formulate this plan.

Before Saturday night’s game, over their last 15 games since Aug. 10, the Rays had a 2.06 ERA, best in the majors. The Rays have recorded 11 shutouts this season.

Since the “opener” debuted on May 19, the Rays have ranked second in the majors with a 3.34 ERA. They were 4.43 prior to that.

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder believes it’s sustainable for the future. He said the organization has committed to it from their full season minor league teams on up. He does see a day when the “headliners” will become legitimate starting pitchers perhaps reducing the number of times they use an opener. That’s the hope.

Snyder showed emotion in the dugout when Stanek picked off Andrew Benintendi at first base with Martinez at the plate in the sixth inning, one of a few Sox mistakes.

“That was kind of unexpected,” Stanek said. “I’m not really known for picking people off. I think that’s the first guy I’ve picked off since college.”

With the Rays now 69-61 they are drawing much attention on how they pitch.

“The goal is to win games,” Snyder said. “I don’t know if this is cutting edge. I don’t think any of us are caught up in labels. What we’re caught up in is our pitches getting better, maturing. This isn’t something we just thought about it. It’s been discussed in our organization for years back when Andrew Friedman [now Dodgers’ president] was here. But we’re finally putting it into action.

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“We’ll see where it goes.”

And for the Red Sox, we’ll also see where it goes.

Porcello’s words were well-timed. We’ll see if they serve as a wake-up call for a team that has won only two of its last seven games.


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.