Facing aces, Pruitt continues to hold his own

Facing aces, Pruitt continues to hold his own

ST. PETERSBURG -- Austin Pruitt doesn't back down. He didn't in Houston when he went against undefeated Astros ace Dallas Keuchel. And Pruitt didn't Tuesday night when he went against Red Sox ace Chris Sale.

In both cases, Pruitt stepped forward with quality starts. The rookie right-hander came away with a win in Houston, but unfortunately for Pruitt and the Rays, he took the loss against Sale as the Red Sox claimed a 2-0 win over the Rays in the first game of a two-game set at Tropicana Field.

"[Pruitt] did a very good job," Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. "He was able to mix in his pitches, he located very well and he kept us off-balance a little bit."

The Red Sox (64-49) widened their lead to four games in the American League East over the second-place Yankees (59-52), who lost to the Blue Jays, and to 6 1/2 games over the third-place Rays (58-56). Despite the loss, Tampa Bay remained tied with the Royals for the second AL Wild Card spot.

Pruitt threw a career-high 95 pitches while allowing one run on seven hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

"I threw the ball well," Pruitt said. "I got out of some tough jams. I was upset with myself about the comebacker back to me. I could have gotten out of that inning with a lot less pitches and no runs."

Pruitt issued a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia to start the fourth. Andrew Benintendi followed with a single to center. One out later, the Red Sox had runners at the corners for Rafael Devers, who grounded to Pruitt. Even though Pedroia broke for the plate, Pruitt went to second hoping for the double play. But his throw to second was a little bit wild to the left field side of the bag and the Rays were only able to get the force at second. Pedroia scored to put the Red Sox up, 1-0.

"I thought Austin Pruitt threw the ball really, really well," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "The one blemish [was] the inning where he gave up the leadoff walk to Pedroia. He did everything to make pitches, then he got Devers into the position he wanted to, made a really big pitch.

"Got a comebacker, looked like he slipped off the mound a little bit fielding the ball and might have rushed his throw a tick. I don't think he slipped throwing the ball, but it looked like he rushed and that's what pulled [shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria] off the bag so he couldn't make the turn."

In Pruitt's three starts since returning to Tampa Bay's rotation, he has faced New York's Masahiro Tanaka, Kuechel and Sale. Cash complemented Pruitt for regaining his starting form after beginning the season in the Rays' bullpen.

"That's good, and I think he's going to get another good one coming up," said Cash.

On Sunday, Pruitt will face Cleveland ace Corey Kulber.

Pruitt has made four Major League starts and yielded one run or fewer in three of those four starts, resulting in a 2.66 ERA as a starter compared to a 6.91 ERA in 17 relief appearances. Pruitt pitched well Tuesday night, but he felt as though he could have done better.

"I was pretty upset with myself," Pruitt said. "I'm happy with the way I threw the ball, but it could have been better."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.