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Rays 9, Red Sox 6

For openers, it was half bad

Rays rough up Miller, Red Sox

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 16, 2011

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Red Sox played baseball’s version of a lottery ticket when they signed Andrew Miller to a minor league contract in December.

The former first-round pick had pitched poorly for the Tigers and Marlins, but was only 25, lefthanded, and still had the ability to throw a fastball in the mid-90s. The Red Sox sent him to Triple A Pawtucket to try and reclaim his career.

Miller was impressive, earned a spot in the major league rotation in late June and won three of his first four starts.

Now comes the hard part, being patient. Because with the Red Sox desperate for reliable starters, Miller has started to show why he was so readily available in the first place.

The lefthander could not get through three innings against the Tampa Bay Rays last night as the Red Sox were beaten, 9-6, before a crowd of 25,729.

Miller allowed seven runs on five hits and five walks in 2 2/3 innings. On a night when the Red Sox hit four home runs, the early deficit was too much to overcome as their six-game win streak was snapped.

Miller (3-1) has walked nine without a strikeout over 7 2/3 innings in his last two starts, giving up 10 runs.

“I’m not doing it on purpose,’’ he said. “But it seems like I’m just missing off the plate or hitting the corner. I think what got me back [to the majors] was being aggressive in the strike zone and I’m not doing that right now. I’ve got to do a better job.’’

Miller became the first Red Sox starter to walk at least five without a strikeout since Julian Tavares in 2006. The five walks and seven runs matched his career high.

“It’s kind of obvious something is not going right,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It’s still a work in progress. I think Andrew feels the same way.’’

Said Miller: “You don’t like to have one like this. You’ve got to make some adjustments and do some stuff better.’’

It was a struggle from the start for Miller as he walked the second and third hitters he faced, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. Miller got ahead of B.J. Upton, 0 and 2, but could not put him away. Upton fouled off three pitches then lined an RBI single to center.

Miller threw 35 of his 85 pitches in the first inning.

“I was pretty worn out throwing so many pitches in a short period of time,’’ he said. “By then I had lost all rhythm.’’

With the bases loaded and no outs in the second inning, Miller shattered the bat of Johnny Damon. The ball fell at the feet of Dustin Pedroia and he fired to the plate for an out.

Miller’s next pitch was a changeup and Zobrist drove it over the fence in left for a grand slam. Miller had thrown Zobrist four changeups in the first and the Tampa Bay right fielder was sitting on that pitch.

“That officially took us out of the game,’’ said Miller, who has a 5.68 earned run average and 1.82 WHIP since being called up. “I wish I had it back.’’

In the third inning, Miller allowed a one-out single by Casey Kotchman before walking Kelly Shoppach. With two outs, No. 9 hitter Sam Fuld lined an RBI single to right.

When Miller walked Damon to load the bases, Francona decided he had seen enough. Alfredo Aceves came in and walked Zobrist to force in a run.

Miller’s fastball, overpowering at times in the minors, averaged a modest 91.8 miles per hour last night.

“He’s been better at times. I don’t think that’s the end-all, be-all for him, though,’’ Francona said. “If he commands with what he has, there will be deception because of his delivery.’’

Trailing 7-2, the Red Sox scored some runs to stay in the game. But Miller’s poor start had buried them.

Miller is out of minor league options and cannot be returned to Pawtucket without clearing waivers. It’s not like the Sox have better in-house options anyway.

“He’s here,’’ pitching coach Curt Young said. “He knows he’s going to get more shots.’’

David Price (9-7) went six innings for the win, allowing solo home runs by Darnell McDonald, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Pedroia.

The Red Sox scored three runs against the Tampa Bay bullpen, two coming on a home run by Marco Scutaro. But Kyle Farnsworth got the final four outs for his 18th save.

Pedroia was 3 for 4 with a double and a home run, running his hit streak to 12 games. But All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz were 0 for 8 with three strikeouts.

“We battled, we swung the bats OK. They just got a couple of bigger hits than we did,’’ said Pedroia, who raised his batting average to .289.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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