ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox are at a point in the season where wins and losses aren't especially important. You would like to think that the 2013 team will look a lot different than some of the lineups Bobby Valentine is pulling out of a hat these days.
It's better to look for players getting an opportunity now who can help this team when the games matter again.
Junichi Tazawa, for instance.
The 26-year-old righthander pitched a perfect eighth inning, throwing 11 of his 15 pitches for strikes and whiffing two along the way.
Tazawa has thrown 7.2 shutout innings in his last eight appearances, giving up one hit and one walk and striking out 14.
“Can't throw the ball any better than he's thrown it. It's impossible,” Bobby Valentine said.
Tazawa, speaking through interpreter Jeff Cutler, was modest when asked about the life on his fastball this season. He has been consistently in the upper 90s and the ball darts in the strike zone. Teammates have said it’s a nasty pitch, but Tazawa only grinned when asked if that were the case.
“So far the results have been there. I hope it continues that way,” he said. “I don’t want to get complacent. I want to make sure my head is in the right place and I control everything.”
Tazawa has gone four consecutive appearances with multiple strikeouts and and one (or less) base runners allowed. Since 2003, the only Red Sox pitcher who has done that is Jonathan Papelbon. He had five consecutive such outings in 2007.
Tazawa looked like a solid prospect as a starter during the first three seasons of his career before he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. But his fastball is a put-away pitch in relief. He has 97 strikeouts in 80 innings with Triple A Pawtucket and the Red Sox while allowing 22 walks.
A few other items:
• Joe Maddon is a genius and all that. But walking Pedro Ciriaco to get to Jacoby Ellsbury was pushing it in the seventh inning, even with a lefty on the mound.
“I don’t think you see a lot of times where you walk ‘em to get to Ells,” Valentine said. “I don’t mind him coming up with the bases loaded.”
Ellsbury had hit lefthanders (.309 with a .687 OPS) better than he has righthanders this season (.243 with a .674 OPS) and he dropped an RBI single into left field.
Ellsbury said seeing Ciriaco get walked provided some extra motivation.
“I like that,” he said. “I always like that mentality in any situation. … You’re not always going to have success in that situation but it only adds to my focus.”
• Good base running by Jose Iglesias in the sixth inning. He stayed out of a double play when he was running on a grounder to short and then took third on a pitch pitch that wasn't too far away from Jose Molina.
• Aaron Cook threw a bunch of cutters Monday night instead of going exclusively with his sinker. That led to six solid innings and his first win since Aug. 6.
• Sox have won three of four and the Rays have lost six of seven. It's a reverse 2011.