Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays game preview

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 5 p.m.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For two games, the Tampa Bay Rays have played it close with the defending American League East champion Boston Red Sox, rallying to win Thursday’s opener and falling 1-0 to a David Price gem on Friday.

But if there’s a major difference between the two squads, it can be seen Saturday night. Boston turns to right-hander Rick Porcello, two years removed from a Cy Young Award, and Tampa Bay is already turning to a bullpen day.

Tampa Bay Rays on FOX Sports Sun

The Rays have lost three pitchers to major elbow injuries since February, with top prospect Brent Honeywell and another promising young pitcher in Jose DeLeon undergoing Tommy John surgery. Then last week, Nathan Eovaldi, projected as the No. 3 starter, required his own elbow surgery to repair loose bodies in the joint.

That means Saturday’s game is a bullpen day, with right-hander Andrew Kittredge making his first major league start and trying to throw as many effective innings as possible. Kittredge pitched well in relief last year, with a 1.76 ERA in 15 games, but none of those outings were longer than 1 2/3 innings or 27 pitches.

“I like the way he threw the ball in spring training. I think he can go in there and provide some length for us and get us to where we need to get the bullpen going,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. “In the next month, we’re probably going to have multiple guys in that slot.”

The Rays had already decided to go with a four-man rotation, thanks to ample off days in the opening stretch of the season. They’ll be counting on unproven pitchers like Kittredge, as well as rookie right-hander Yonny Chirinos, who is likely to make his major league debut Saturday in relief. Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough may make his major league debut as well.

Porcello wasn’t close to his 2016 dominance last season — he went 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA on the year, with the opposition batting .286 against him after hitting just .230 the previous season. He struggled against the Rays, going 2-4 in six starts despite a 3.93 ERA. For his career, he’s a solid 12-8 with a 3.25 ERA in 23 starts against Tampa Bay.

The Rays need to find consistency in an overhauled batting order — they’ve scored in just one of their first 18 innings and they’ve been held to four hits in each of their first two games, albeit against two dominant lefties in Boston’s Chris Sale and Price.

Kittredge has made 11 starts in his minor-league career, including two with Triple-A Durham last season. He’s unlikely to last long enough to be eligible for his first major league win, but Saturday should be a chance for the Rays to test their young new options on the front end of their bullpen, with the hopes of setting up a save situation for the proven back end, including closer Alex Colome.

Colome earned a save in the opener. He led the American League with 47 saves in 2017.

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