Rays shell Lester, 7-4

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Rays shell Lester, 7-4

BOSTON With three home runs including a Matt Joyce third-inning grand slam the Rays knocked Jon Lester from the game after just four innings.

The Rays took the first game in the three-game series, 7-4.

In his previous nine starts, he had given up just four home runs total. The three homers tied a career high, for the third time (along with April 1, 2011 at Texas and June 18, 2011, against Milwaukee) for the most home runs Lester has given up in a game.

Lester had a crisp 1-2-3 first inning to start the game, and Kevin Youkilis RBI single in the bottom of the frame gave him a brief lead. But, he gave up three walks one more than his past three starts, spanning 20 innings, combined. His ERA climbed from 3.95 to 4.72.

Lester has had just one shorter outing this season, April 17 against the Rangers in his third start of the year when he lasted just two innings. Other than that outing and Fridays, he had averaged just over 6 23 innings per start.

The Rays added back-to-back home runs in the fourth a two-run shot by No. 9 hitter Elliot Johnson and a solo shot by Carlos Pena, who leads all batters with six home runs off Lester.

The grand slam was the second Lester has allowed in his career, along with one by Paul Konerko in the fourth inning on Sept. 30, 2010, in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, making just his 11th big league start, held the Sox to two runs on three hits over the first five innings.

The Sox added a run in the fifth when Scott Podsednik singled, stole second, and scored on Adrian Gonzalez's double off the wall in left field.

They got two more in the sixth when the Rays sent three relievers to the mound. J.P Howell walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Daniel Nava, the only two batters he faced, to lead off the inning. Saltalamacchia scored on Marlon Byrds single to center off Burke Badenhop and Nava scored on Mike Aviles sacrifice fly. Badenhop was done after he hit Dustin Pedroia with a pitch. Left-hander Jake McGee ended the Sox threat by retiring David Ortiz on a flyout to right.

But, that was all the damage the Sox could do.

The benches emptied when Sox lefty Franklin Morales hit Luke Scott with a pitch with two on and no outs in the ninth. Morales also hit Will Rhymes with a pitch last week in Tampa Bay. Rays lefty Matt Moore hit Adrian Gonzalez last week in the first game of the two-game series. It was a day after Gonzalez had said he would hit a home run in the game. Moore hit Gonzalez with the first pitch of his first at-bat. Dustin Pedroia was also hit Friday night, in the sixth inning by Burke Badenhop.

Betts not afraid of slumping in sophomore season

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Betts not afraid of slumping in sophomore season

Rookie seasons are no small task for players -- regardless if it’s a pitcher or hitter. It’s the major adjustment of facing guys who have better control with multiple pitches, or hitters who’ve seen just about everything.

However, if you ask some players, the real adjustment comes in the second full season, when organizations have developed extensive scouting reports on players.

The “sophomore slump” is something hitters deal with during that stretch. Numbers tend to drop because scouting reports expose flaws, something that minor league pitchers don’t often have access to.

Mookie Betts, however, doesn’t entirely agree with the notion that it calls for a major slump.

“I mean I don’t know if it’s necessarily a thing,” the sophomore right fielder said. “You hear about it and whatnot, but I think it’s just an adjustment period guys go through. Everybody’s done it. Some people just get out of it faster.”

Early on it appeared Betts was falling into the stages of a “sophomore slump,” going through a 1-for-19 rut after opening day, then 2-for-21 stretch through mid-April.

Since that last slump ended on April 20th, Betts has boasted a .321 clip with two home runs, two triples and three doubles. He’s knocked in eight runs in the process, scoring 14 times himself.

So -- needless to say -- he doesn’t think it was the aforementioned slump

“No, I think it was just adjustments,” Betts explained. “I pretty much think it was just more adjustments that I had to make. Fortunately I was able to make a couple of them. That’s all it is. They make a move and we’ve got to make a move back.”

The adjustments weren’t a mechanical issue either -- it was more related to his approach at the plate.

“It’s important for me to go be aggressive,” Betts said. “They’re not trying to walk me, they aren’t trying to walk anybody -- except David Ortiz.”

One thing Betts has done a better job of since his last slump was shoot pitches to right field. He has to do that if he hopes to hit well because most, if not all, pitchers know he’ll clear out any inside pitch to the Monster seats faster than they can blink.

“They still make mistakes, too,” he said on pitchers working away from him. “I think the part is being aggressive and being ready for those mistakes.”

Like most hitters, Betts doesn’t expect to go though a major slump in 2016, but he knows there are more factors in play than the contact he makes.

“It just depends,” Betts said. “A lot goes into balls falling. I think I’ve hit the ball well this year and haven’t gotten a lot to fall. But then again, I have gotten some to fall. I think I’ve done pretty well, even through the time I was struggling I thought I did all right. [It’s] just [about] trying to get out of those little slumps quickly.”

After dominant April, Porcello only cares about what's next

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After dominant April, Porcello only cares about what's next

Sinkerball pitchers are typically low-walk and low-strikeout pitchers. They want hitters to swing and pound that sinking fastball into the dirt.

Rick Porcello’s been a little different than most contact pitchers since he arrived last season.

In 2015 Porcello had his highest strikeout average in his career, nearly logging eight per nine innings pitched. That was in part because his fastball had bumped up from 2014 with Detroit, occasionally hitting 95 mph.

However, he’d gotten away from his bread and butter -- his movement. It wasn’t until his 15-day stint on the DL last August that he realized he needed to make an adjustment.

“I was really focused when I came off the DL last year on getting my sinker going again, be under control, locate. Get back to doing the things that I was doing the previous year that was working for me.”

After realizing he’d strayed from the pitcher he was, Porcello identified he needed to change the tempo of his delivery. It’s clear that taking a little off his delivery has been the pivotal adjustment since he came back from his late-season injury.

“I was making a conscious effort to slow things down, and locate the fastball, and go from there,” Porcello said.

However, Porcello’s back to striking hitters out again, almost averaging 10 K’s every nine innings.

But that hasn’t been a bad thing this time around. And he claims it isn’t completely deliberate -- and that he’s still trying to force contact.

“That’s really been my approach my entire career,” Porcello said. “I’ve never been a strikeout pitcher. When we get to two strikes then we’ll take our shots. It’s really more mixing speeds, changing eye levels and just trying to induce contact to get quick outs. That’s always been our focus and all we’re trying to do.”

While he’s enjoyed punching hitters out better than he ever as -- coupled with positive results -- he doesn’t expect the strikeout rate to maintain.

“Right now we’re happy to generate more strikeouts,” he explained. “But it’s not always going to be like that – that’s just the way it’s gone so far. So I try not to get caught up in that and focus on locating pitches. Whatever happens when I let go of the ball is out of my control. It’s kind of a product of what we’ve been doing thus far, but it hasn’t been our focus.”

John Farrell’s also made mention that the righty is in a good place mentally, and that focusing on the moment -- one pitch at a time -- has been huge.

Porcello explained that he’s always had that mental approach. He also noted that his mentality towards this season has been positive since the start -- and he plans to keep it that way.

“I’m confident and I felt like coming to the season I was in a good place,” Porcello said. “I was trying to ride that out and continue to do so. April’s behind us and there’s a lot of baseball to be played. I need to continue to get better and I need to continue to keep giving us a chance to win and throw the ball the way I’ve been throwing it.”