After fouling a pitch directly off his left foot in the top of the 10th inning on Wednesday, Boston Red Sox center fielder Adam Duvall needed more than a couple of minutes to recover from the searing pain.
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His decision to stay in the fight paid immediate dividends for Boston. Duvall clubbed a tiebreaking, three-run home run on the next pitch of his at-bat to carry the Red Sox to a 7-5 victory over the host Houston Astros, a win that keeps Boston squarely in the American League wild-card picture.
Duvall has homered in each of the first three games of this four-game series, which concludes Thursday afternoon. His 14th long ball of the season was the biggest by far.
“He’s made some adjustments,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Duvall. “He’s catching up with the fastball and he’s pulling the ball. He mentioned a few weeks ago that he was missing that, and so far here he’s put three great swings. That was huge for us.”
Brayan Bello (9-7, 3.70 ERA) will start for the Red Sox on Thursday as Boston attempts to gain a series split.
The right-hander allowed one run on six hits and one walk with four strikeouts over six innings on Friday against the New York Yankees in an 8-3 victory. That lowered his ERA to 5.03 in seven starts since the All-Star break, a contrast to his last 12 starts before the break, when he compiled a 2.35 ERA. Bello leads the Red Sox in starts (21) and innings (119 1/3) this season.
Bello has faced the Astros once previously, recording two strikeouts while allowing two hits in two-thirds of an innings of relief in a no-decision on Aug. 3, 2022.
Rookie right-hander J.P. France (9-4, 2.75 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Thursday.
He recorded his 12th quality start on Friday against the Seattle Mariners, allowing two runs on seven hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over six innings in a 2-0 loss. France is among rookie leaders in quality starts, wins, opponents’ OPS (.675), innings (108) and WHIP (1.21). His ERA is the lowest in franchise history through the first 18 career appearances (minimum six starts).
France will face the Red Sox for the first time in his career.
The Astros are in desperate need of length from France, who has logged seven innings in four of his previous six starts. The last Astros starter to record at least 21 outs was Framber Valdez on Aug. 14 against the Miami Marlins, a game in which the Astros used only one relief pitcher.
In the eight games since, the Astros have used at least four relievers six times.
France and Justin Verlander, who tossed six scoreless innings on Tuesday, are the only starters to log at least six innings during that stretch, with Houston having to overwork its bullpen to cover for shortened outings from Cristian Javier (4 2/3 innings on Aug. 15 at Miami), Hunter Brown (2 2/3 innings on Sunday against Seattle) and Jose Urquidy, who recorded only 14 outs Wednesday.
“We need it,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of an extended outing from France to spare the bullpen. “We were upside down (Wednesday). We got upside down early in the 13-game streak (of games played on consecutive days) and we had a couple short outings, which put pressure on the bullpen. We’re at the drawing board now trying to figure out what we’re going to do.”
—Field Level Media