Red Sox hang tight in atypical AL East race

Rodriguez's debut, Ortiz's track record bring optimism

Red Sox hang tight in atypical AL East race

ARLINGTON -- This isn't a typical year in the American League East, and though that's not great for anyone, it might somehow be better for everyone close to 50 games into the season.

The Yankees (25-24) entered Saturday as the only team above .500 in the division, with a one-game lead over the Rays. Although the Red Sox (22-27) have gone through some early-season bumps -- including losing four of their past five -- they remain only three games out of first place.

"I think what is playing out so far in the first 45, 50 games is each team seems to have their own issues," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We know what ours are, and we've got to work to address those. We can't look elsewhere. We have to continue to look internally and keep that our focus."

The Red Sox have important decisions to make soon as Farrell looks to narrow the starting rotation back to five after Boston ends a grueling 20-game stretch June 7. With the emergence of Eduardo Rodriguez in his first career start, that decision is beginning to look even harder.

"I think one of the things that comes out of this is competition is a healthy thing," Farrell said.

Farrell on Rodriguez's debut

Hope that the Red Sox can get hot and make a run at the top of the division coincides with a similar hope that David Ortiz can return to the lineup with a bang. Ortiz sat out the past two nights after hitting a slump and is batting only .216 this year. Farrell said Ortiz detected some problems with his back leg through reviewing tape, and has already worked to fix the problem in his swing.

"We're not pleased with where we are, but to be three games out, maybe we're benefiting from a year in which there's not a perfect team," Farrell said.

Worth noting

• Infielder Jeff Bianchi, who was designated for assignment Thursday, has elected to become a free agent. Bianchi appeared in only one game for Boston as a pinch-runner after being activated Sunday.

Xander Bogaerts wasn't in the lineup Saturday, but Farrell said it's not connected to when he exited Thursday's game after a pitch hit him on the left wrist. Instead, Farrell said it is a regular day off for Bogaerts.

Mike Napoli on his ejection in Friday's game after taking a called strike three: "I actually felt better after I did get tossed. I kind of let it all out and let it go, and I feel better today about it."

Cody Stavenhagen is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.