Extra works pays off for Punto

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Extra works pays off for Punto

TORONTO -- After going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against the Tigers on Wednesday night, Nick Punto knew he had to do something. While he had seen limited playing time for most of the season, Punto had been subbing for the injured Dustin Pedroia, and figured to do so for the foreseeable future.

But he was at a disadvantage at the plate.

You can practice all you want but until you step in that box and see 95-mph pitches coming at you, its going to be tough, he said.

So he texted Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan around midnight on Wednesday with a request.

I said can we get on the field, try to get some time, and crank that pitching machine up, try to get it to where its throwing 95 miles an hour, Punto said. I felt really good coming out of that. Since then Ive been seeing the ball a lot better.

Punto wanted to see some velocity in BP, which isnt always easy off the regular BP pitchers, whose offerings are a good 30 or so miles less than what he wanted. He and Magadan got the machine onto the field before the series finale against the Tigers on Wednesday.

Punto knew something clicked.

Timing is everything and when you get that machine cranked up you cant be long in your swing, he said. And my swing was a little bit long. We shortened it up.

Punto didnt see the results immediately, but he figures that session combined with the regular playing time paid off Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Punto went 3-for-4, with a home run, a double, two runs scored, and two RBI, in the Red Sox 7-4 win over the Blue Jays.

Absolutely super, manager Bobby Valentine summed up Puntos outing. His timing at the plate was great today and it was really needed.

Puntos home run, his first of the season, and first since his lone home run last season, on Sept. 27, was the Sox final run of the day. A game like that can serve as a catalyst and confidence booster.

Its big, he said. Its big from a personal standpoint just because I havent had a whole lot of success and to come in and contribute and help the team win and get a few, hits, Im starting to see the ball a lot better, thats huge.

Its unfortunate to lose our stud second baseman, our All-Star second baseman, but for me it just means some reps and some more timing.

After his home run, a blast to right leading off the ninth, Punto returned to the dugout welcomed by the silent treatment from his teammates.

The good old silent treatment. Thats baseball, he said. I said come give me some love. Ive been playing this game a while 12 seasons and thats only my 15th home run so come give me some love.

The home run was appreciated in more ways than one by his teammates.

Punto got a big home run for us, kind of let us breathe a little bit, said Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Its really special to be able to see a little guy like that be able to hit it that far.

Including his final at-bat of Fridays game, Punto went 4-for-his last 5. In the two games he raised his average from .122 to .175, not a goal number, but moving in the right direction.

Appropriately, Punto was involved in the final play of the game, a groundball he fielded to close out the win. The Sox are 4-1 in the last five games Punto has started at second base.

Its been a lot of fun, he said. I love the game of baseball and to get out there and get to play in consecutive games is a lot of fun.

Red Sox can't rally against Rays after Chris Archer's start

Red Sox can't rally against Rays after Chris Archer's start

The appearance of Tampa Bay Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough almost got the Boston Red Sox back in their spring training exhibition game. The Sox managed to score all three of their runs against the 25-year-old in their 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday.

But the Rays, who scored runs in five different innings, managed to widen their lead in the eighth inning by beating up on Sox lefty Luis Isla, a 24-year-old who spent last season with Portland and Pawtucket. In the eighth, Rays' Joe McCarthy homered and Luke Maile managed an RBI single, which cappped off the scoring in the contest. Sox starter Hector Velazquez allowed three hits and an earned run in his two innnings. The 28-year-old, who spent 2016 in the Mexican League, still managed to amass four strikeouts.

"I was a little nervous at the start, being in the United States for the first time and playing for a big league club for the first time," Velazquez told RedSox.com through an interpreter. "But once I got the first out, all the nerves went away, and I was able to bear down."

Despite allowing two homers, Boston pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts.

With the exception of the Sox' inning against Yarbrough, Boston's veterans and prospects struggled mighltily against the Rays pitching staff. Chris Archer started for Tampa, and set the tone in the first two innings, where he threw two strikeouts, one walk and allowed one hit and no runs. Andrew Benintendi (0-for-3), Sam Travis (0-for-2) and Bryce Brentz (0-for-3) went hitless on the day. Travis, however, reached base on balls.

"I felt good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish," Archer said, via the Red Sox' team website. "Just out there having fun, it was really fun to be out there in the spectrum with the umpire, the fans, the batter. It was fun."

Marco Hernandez's triple got the Sox' eighth-inning off to a strong start, and singles from Matt Dominguez, Deven Marrero, Rusney Castillo and Cole Sturgeon followed. The Sox' eighth inning scoring ended after Castillo got thrown out by left fielder McCarthy at third. Six Red Sox finished with one-hit outings, including Brock Holt and Blake Swihart.

The Sox will next host the St. Louis Cardinals in Fort Myers on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET.