ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Sox hit .189 with runners in scoring position in the first 13 games in May. Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, they had four hits in their previous 40 at-bats in such situations.
The trend continued for two innings as the Sox stranded runners at second base in each inning.
Then Dustin Pedroia had an RBI single in the third inning and David Ortiz did the same, punching a ball the other way against Rays ace David Price.
The Sox scored eight runs before the inning was over, four coming on Stephen Drew’s grand slam. The result was a 9-2 victory before a crowd of 15,767 at Tropicana Field.
Every Red Sox starter except Shane Victorino scored at least one run and reached base via hit or walk. Will Middlebrooks doubled and homered in support of Jon Lester (6-0).
The Sox finished with 10 hits and were 5 of 11 with runners in scoring position.
“We needed a game like that,” Middlebrooks said. “It feels nice.”
The Sox had lost three straight, six of seven and nine of their last 11 games. But manager John Farrell didn’t call a team meeting or change the lineup. He kept faith in the idea that a roster he genuinely likes would return to form.
“We had the same lineup that won all those games,” Drew said. “It’s a matter of baseball being a funny game sometimes. When things don’t go your way you keep grinding. It’s a long season and it’s still May.”
• Drew is 20 of 63 (.317) with eight extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 18 games since April 24.
• Jon Lester (6-0) went an efficient seven innings. He allowed two runs on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
Lester’s has 1,110 strikeouts for his career. That passed Josh Beckett for fifth place in team history. Only Roger Clemens (2,590), Tim Wakefield (2,046), Pedro Martinez (1,683) and Cy Young (1,341) have more.
“That’s pretty cool,” Lester said. “It’s not something that you play for. I play to win games and hopefully win a World Series. It just so happens along the way that your name moves up those lists. It’s great. Obviously it’s an honor to be with those names.”
Lester was 0-4 with a 6.11 ERA in his last five starts against the Rays. The victory was his first against Tampa Bay since Aug. 16, 2011. Lester is 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA in six starts following a Red Sox loss this season.
• Felix Doubront will start for the Sox on Thursday night. But there he was at Tropicana Field on Wednesday afternoon throwing 21 pitches to bullpen catcher Mani Martinez.
It’s not completely out of the ordinary for a pitcher to throw in the bullpen the day before his start. Clay Buchholz is one pitcher who does. But it is unusual for Doubront.
But these are difficult times for the 25-year-old lefthander. Doubront has a 6.40 earned run average in six appearances. In his last two outings, he has allowed 12 earned runs on 23 hits over nine innings.
Doubront was taken out of the rotation after a poor start on May 3 at Texas. He was then forced into a long relief appearance on May 8 when the starter who temporarily replaced him — rookie Allen Webster — couldn’t get through two innings against the Twins.
Doubront labored through 5.1 unexpected innings of relief, giving up six runs on 11 hits.
Doubront has not pitched since and used the time to work on fundamentals with pitching coach Juan Nieves.
Velocity is an issue too. Doubront’s fastball has averaged 90.2 miles-per-hour this season, down from 92.8 last season. A pitcher who once peaked at 96 now only hits 94 on occasion.
Doubront said his concern is for location, not velocity. His confidence also has improved during the extra time off.
“I feel comfortable. I’m not trying to do too much,” he said. “I’m comfortable on the mound. That’s going to help. Everything is going to come back.”
Doubront has some unusual statistics. Opponents are hitting .420 on balls they put in play, an unusually high number. With two outs and runners in scoring position, opponents are hitting .474 with a 1.197 OPS.
“That’s, to me, the biggest area that he has lacked. He’s been able to get ahead of guys and yet hasn’t put guys away,” Farrell said. “I think you create your own luck and create your own situations to put up a zero and shut an inning off after you’ve recorded two outs.”
Doubront said the game Thursday is a big one for him.
“I’m good now. The work I’m doing now, I know that I’m going to get better results,” he said. “Looking forward to pitching tomorrow and just put everything I’ve been working on into being a pitcher again.”
• The bad times contines for Daniel Bard on Wednesday. Pitching for Double A Portland against New Hampshire, Bard walked five of the nine batters he faced and threw two wild pitches. Of his 30 pitches, eight were strikes.
In five appearances since being optioned back to Portland following a two-game promotion to the majors, Bard has walked 13 in 3.2 innings.