BOSTON -- Here is why catcher David Ross is in the starting lineup against Tampa Bay ace David Price: He has just two career starts against the Rays left-hander but has more home runs (2) in five at-bats than Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes have combined to hit (1) in 166 at-bats.
Pedroia has the home run in that bunch, coming in 2011, when the Red Sox second baseman knocked around Price at a .462 clip (6-for-13). This season, however, Price has had the edge against Pedroia, holding him to a .143 average (2-for-14) with 6 K's.
Ross homered against Price in 2012 while playing for Atlanta then again in Fenway Park on April 13 in a 2-1 Sox win in 10 innings in which Price received a no-decision. The only other Sox player with as many as two home runs against Price is Mike Napoli, who is one of seven big leaguers who have had at least 10 at-bats and are batting .300 or better against the Rays' lefty. Napoli is right at .300 (9-for-30) and was 4-for-13 (.308) with a home run this season.
Price has been a much better pitcher since his return from a triceps strain that he sustained against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field on May 15 and sent him to the DL for 45 days. He was 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA in nine starts at that point; since coming back from the DL, he went 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA, striking out 102 while walking just 13 in 131 2/3 innings. Price allowed just two home runs over his last dozen starts (83 1/3 IP), and of the 16 home runs he gave up this season, 14 were hit by right-handed batters.
Price made three starts against the Sox since his return from injury, including back-to-back starts at Fenway Park in a five-day span (July 24-29). He was 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA, allowing just 10 hits and four earned runs, striking out 21 while not walking a batter in 24 1/3 innings.
So it stands to reason Sox manager John Farrell, even presented with a small sample size, would want Ross in the lineup, catching John Lackey.
"He's had a few at-bats against Price, and he's swung the bat OK against Price," Farrell said. "I thought he and John [Lackey] have paired up well. We want to keep him in the mix; he's important to us.
"These are the situations why we signed him, to face a left-handed starter, a good one. We're taking advantage of David's abilities."
Defensively, Ross is a proven asset whenever he plays. Despite missing 65 games because of concussive symptoms, Ross threw out 34.5 percent of attempted base stealers (10-of-29), the best caught-stealing percentage by a Sox catcher since Tony Pena threw out 37.3 percent (31-of-83) in 1993.
Ross' shutdown capabilities might be especially useful with Lackey, who is not as quick to the plate as other Red Sox starters. Sox pitchers are generally in the 1.35-second range; Lackey is closer to 1.40, one reason base stealers succeeded 27 of 33 times with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate for Lackey. Base stealers have succeeded in both of their attempts with Ross catching Lackey.