ST. PETERSBURG — The Red Sox have a lot to feel good about heading into tonight's series opener with the Rays, having won 10 of their past 11 and holding a 1½ lead over the Yankees in the AL East.
But they'll likely feel a lot better when their rotation does, as two of their top three starters, left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buchholz, are on the disabled list, and right-hander Josh Beckett pulled out of the All-Star Game with soreness in his left knee.
Manager Terry Francona said Beckett is "pretty confident" he will start Sunday.
"Unfortunately, it seems like guys have kind of got hit by the bug or something, because it's one guy after another," said left-hander Andrew Miller, who starts tonight.
"But that's what I'm here to do is fill in as best I can. I know I can't replace some of these guys' shoes, but if we can go out there and win some games, we're reaching our goal."
Lester (strained lower lat muscle) is working his way back, having played catch from 60 feet at Fenway Park. Buchholz (lower back soreness), who hasn't pitched since his June 16 start against the Rays, is still at least a couple of weeks away.
Beckett's injury came in the bullpen before Tuesday's All-Star Game, when he pulled himself out as a precaution. Francona said if Beckett can't go Sunday, they can push him back a few days and have right-hander Kyle Weiland step in.
"I have a feeling that will be the worst-case scenario, which is good," Francona said.
Francona has been pleased with how others have picked up the slack. Right-hander John Lackey (6-8, 6.84 ERA) ended a three-game skid his last time out with 6⅔ scoreless innings against Baltimore.
In the Red Sox's last series with the Rays, it was starting pitching that set the tone. After Rays right-hander James Shields' shutout, both Beckett and Buchholz came up big, as the teams combined for just 13 runs over three games.
"They are missing a little bit here or there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But overall, they're still thick and good."