First pitch: Here and now

811894.jpg

First pitch: Here and now

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He is not, all initial appearances to the contrary, the second coming of Joe Morgan or Robbie Alomar.

In fact, there's nothing to suggest he's even an everyday major leaguer.

He's not a "kid'' as some insist on labeling him -- he'll be 27 in September, in fact -- and he's not the future, someone around whom a team can build.

Pedro Ciriaco is the present. He's right now, this week, which, with Dustin Pedroia sidelined, is all the Red Sox really need.

Ciriaco made his presence felt again Friday night as the second half the season began, looking, at least as far as Ciriaco's concerned, very much like the end of the first half.

Ciriaco had three hits, and OK, two of them were bloopers, perfectly placed rather than solidly hit. But another was driven up the middle with the bases loaded and scored two runs, enough to provide the margin of victory in the Red Sox' 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last weekend, making his debut for the Red Sox, Ciriaco introduced himself loudly, collecting seven hits in his first three games. In the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, Ciriaco carried the Sox to their only win in the four-game set with four hits,
four RBI, two runs scored and one stolen base.

When he followed that with another three-hit night in the final game of the first half, he went into the break on a high, and, to some, the newest cult hero.

"Where's this guy been?'' wondered Red Sox fans.

All over the place, is the answer. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Domincan Republic in 2003, he spent seven years in their system before being included in a deal to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.

He appeared in 31 games with the Pirates in 2010 and 2011, accumulating 13 hits in those games, or three more than he's had with the Red Sox in his first four games.

A minor league free agent last winter, he enjoyed a fabulous spring training, but failed to make the roster as the Red Sox went with veteran utility man Nick Punto as the lone utility man.

He was flown to Kansas City in early May when it appeared that rookie Will Middlebrooks might need time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, but was never activated.

He returned to the Sox last week when Dustin Pedroia finally accepted the inevitable and went on the DL. And he's made people notice.

"I feel pretty good,'' said Ciriaco after his heroics Friday. "We got the win tonight. (On the two-run single), I wasn't trying to do too much, just trying to go up the middle. It'a good feeling and I feel happy to be able to help the team.

"(Getting the opportunity to play more) is huge for me. Every time I get a chance to wear the uniform and be a part of the Red Sox team is huge.''

Ciriaco is humble and hungry, appreciative and accepting. He understands he's not about to become a fixture with the Sox and there's every chance that when Pedroia returns in a week or so, Ciriaco will likely return to Pawtucket, where he'll stay until another injury befalls the Sox, or, failing that, rosters expand on Sept. 1.

But for now, he's enjoying the ride.

Bobby Valentine, who was a big Ciriaco booster in the spring, isn't under any illusions.

Asked Thursday whether Ciriaco's play was a case of a late-bloomer who suddenly had it all figured out, or just a hot streak, Valentine smiled.

"I think it's more of a good stretch, a good opportunity,'' said Valentine evenly, "taking the best of the opportunity. But there are some things he does and does pretty well.''

For now, which is all the Red Sox care about.

Porcello loses 10th game as Red Sox fall to Twins, 4-1

Porcello loses 10th game as Red Sox fall to Twins, 4-1

BOSTON -- Twins rookie lefty Adalberto Mejia is feeling more comfortable each time he takes the mound.

Mejia pitched 5 2/3 innings in his second straight scoreless start, Max Kepler hit a two-run homer and Minnesota rebounded from two consecutive losses against Boston to beat the Red Sox 4-1 on Wednesday night.

"He did a nice job," Twins manager Paul Molitor said about Mejia. "He had to kind of battle. It's kind of becoming a little bit of his MO to burn through pitches, but similarly to his last start, he kept walking off the field with zeros."

Kepler also had an RBI single, and Miguel Sano added an RBI double to help the Twins improve to 24-11 on the road.

Mejia (3-3) allowed five hits, struck out three and walked one in his 11th career start. On Friday night at Cleveland, he held the Indians to two hits over five innings in a victory.

"I feel calmer every time I'm out there," he said through a translator. "I think that's why I did better."

Brandon Kintzler got the final three outs for his 21st save.

Boston starter Rick Porcello (4-10) gave up four runs on six hits in six innings, striking out six and walking two. It was his 14th straight start going at least six innings, the AL's longest active streak.

"It's not like they're beating the cover off the ball," Porcello said. "It's just a couple things here and there that I've got to clean up. I'm not making excuses for myself. I definitely hold myself accountable for the loss tonight."

Red Sox manager John Farrell was back in the dugout after serving a one-game suspension Tuesday for poking umpire Bill Miller in the chest during an argument Saturday.

The Red Sox stranded 11 baserunners, and at least one in every inning. Farrell thought his team may have been pressing a bit.

"I thought there were times we might have expanded the strike zone a little bit, trying to make something happen," he said.

With Minnesota leading 2-0 in the sixth, Kepler lined his homer off the back of Boston's bullpen.

In the first, the Twins scored a pair of two-out runs when Sano hit his RBI double down the third-base line and scored on Kepler's broken-bat single.

Xander Bogaerts drove in Boston's run with a bases-loaded grounder in the seventh.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Twins: LHP Glen Perkins resumed throwing Tuesday after a setback last week following offseason shoulder surgery. Molitor said the club is still formulating a plan for him. He's been sidelined all season and pitched in just two games last year.

Red Sox: DH Hanley Ramirez missed his third straight game after getting hit by a pitch on the left knee Sunday. "He'll go through a full workday today," Farrell said. "He's feeling improved."

MATCHES OWN RECORD

Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia played his 98th consecutive error-less game, matching the best mark in club history he set for a second baseman from 2009-10.

LOOKS FAMILIAR

This season has started like 2015 for Porcello, the AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Two years ago when he struggled badly, the righty lost nine of his initial 13 decisions and finished 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA.

ROSTER MOVE

Minnesota right-hander Phil Hughes was activated from the 10-day disabled list and LHP Craig Breslow was put on with rib cage soreness.

Hughes had been on the DL since complaining of a "dead feeling" in his pitching shoulder on May 21. He allowed one run in three innings during three rehabilitation appearances in Triple-A.

Molitor plans to use him out of the bullpen.

UP NEXT

Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (4-5, 6.23 ERA) looks to continue his success in Fenway Park in the series finale Thursday. He's allowed only one run over 15 innings in two career starts.

Red Sox: LHP David Price (2-2, 4.76) has won his last five decisions against Minnesota, posting a 1.84 ERA.