- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox have won six of their past seven games and appear to be firing on all cylinders.
After splitting a two-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays that finished with a 5-3 win for Boston Thursday night at Tropicana Field, the Red Sox are ready for interleague play as they travel to Philadelphia for a three-game series against the Phillies and former Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Boston has received a string of quality starts, and the pitching staff as a whole has held opponents to only eight runs over the past six games, posting a 1.19 ERA during this stretch.
The bullpen has been spectacular. Since April 23, Red Sox relievers lead the majors with a 1.38 ERA. Boston's bullpen had its scoreless streak snapped at 13 innings when Vicente Padilla allowed a run in the eighth inning on Thursday.
"Super," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of his relievers' performance. "They're getting ready, they're coming in and throwing strikes. They know their job and they're passing the baton. I'm proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves. They are highly professional."
As great as the pitching has been, there's no way the Red Sox would be in the midst of a successful streak without timely, consistent hitting.
"We're playing hard," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We're in the middle of the grind now. We have a lot of games in a row on the road. We played great tonight and now we're going on to Philly, and they're a tough team with great pitching, so we have to play well."
Since the beginning of interleague play in 1997, the Red Sox have baseball's fourth-best record at 150-115. Since 2003, Boston leads the majors with a 105-57 interleague record. Valentine has never managed in the American League under this schedule, and he knows there will be challenges.
During the team's last homestand, he had his pitchers begin a hitting program. Valentine has had discussions with certain players about how their roles could change, especially designated hitter David Ortiz and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Since there will be no DH in the National League park, Ortiz will play first base for at least one of these upcoming games against the Phillies, and Gonzalez could play right field. Both are prepared for the changes and welcome the challenges.
"I think they're both capable," Valentine said. "Adrian is playing every day, and to ask him to run around the outfield and do that for a few days in this long stretch might be much. That was David's thought, too."
Ortiz has been swinging a strong bat this season, and the last thing the Red Sox need is to lose that production from the lineup. But there are some potential plays with Ortiz at first that are a concern for Valentine, too.
"I don't think David is really friendly with popups," the manager said.
Ortiz proved in the past he can handle the position. During the 2004 World Series in St. Louis, Ortiz made a throw across the diamond to pick off Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan at third base. In the 2007 World Series in Colorado, Ortiz made a Gold Glove-type pick at first base.
"I've played first base before," Ortiz said. "It's not like I forgot. I know how bad you can mess things up over there, too. I try to keep it simple. I'm fine. No fear -- never from Papi."
Because he plays the field only a few times during the season, there will be adjustments for Ortiz.
"It's not something that I do often, so I try not to put pressure on myself," Ortiz said. "I'll try to have communication with Pedey because I don't want to be in the wrong place when it comes to catching a fly ball or catching a ground ball. I try to mark a territory where I can be at and I'll let the guys who are out there every day take over."
When asked what he thought about Gonzalez's willingness to play the outfield in order to keep Ortiz in the lineup, Big Papi was pumped.
"That's unbelievable," Ortiz said. "You're talking about a Gold Glove first baseman giving up his position for somebody else to play. You don't see that too often. Gonzo's a team player."
Even if Gonzalez does play the outfield, he doesn't want to take anything away from the everyday guys out there.
"Our outfielders are swinging the bats great, so I don't want to take any at-bats away from them," Gonzalez said. "We'll see how it goes."
As if interleague play alone wasn't compelling enough, it's going to be interesting to see Papelbon face his former team. One thing is for certain: His former teammates aren't thrilled with the idea of facing him with the game on the line.
"I don't like that, geez," Pedroia said. "Not only is he tough to face and has great stuff, a lot of guys view him as family so it'll be tough."
The Red Sox are on a roll as they enter interleague play in Philly.