MLB

Red Sox-Braves Preview

General manager Ben Cherington spoke candidly prior to the Boston Red Sox's eighth defeat in nine games, taking responsibility for assembling an underachieving roster that sits in the AL East basement.

His words didn't provide an immediate spark, but the impact could be felt through changes that almost certainly are on the horizon if signs of a turnaround don't come quickly.

Boston looks to earn a four-game split Thursday night against the host Atlanta Braves, who haven't won a series in three weeks.

The Red Sox (28-39) got some temporary relief when they snapped a seven-game losing streak with Tuesday's 9-4 win, but the offense struggled again in Wednesday's 5-2 defeat.

Boston finished in last place in 2014 after winning the World Series the year before, leading to Cherington signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and trading for starters Rick Porcello and Wade Miley in the offseason.

''When you are where we are, there's a lot of reasons for it,'' Cherington said. ''There's no single player that's responsible for that. The only person that's perhaps responsible for a longer list of reasons is me.

''I will certainly make judgments on myself for the overall performance and the team's performance, and that's on me.''

Sandoval went 2 for 4 and Brock Holt had two hits after becoming the first Red Sox player since 1996 to hit for the cycle Tuesday. But Nick Markakis broke a 2-all tie with an RBI single in the seventh and Cameron Maybin added one of his own in the eighth to lift Atlanta (32-34).

Sandoval won't play in this one after being benched for using his phone in the clubhouse during Wednesday's game.

''It's the wrong thing,'' Sandoval said. ''My team is down. Ain't going to happen no more.''

Boston has averaged 2.3 runs while dropping 11 of 12 on the road and plays three at AL Central-leading Kansas City following this contest. The offense could have some more trouble facing Shelby Miller, who has allowed more than two earned runs twice in 13 starts.

Miller (5-2, 2.02 ERA) recorded his 10th quality start after allowing three runs in 6 1-3 innings of Atlanta's 5-3, 11-inning road win over the New York Mets on Saturday. He'll make this start at Turner Field, where he's 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in five outings.

The right-hander was excellent in his only career start against the Red Sox, allowing one run and four hits over seven innings of a 2-1 loss while with St. Louis on Aug. 6.

Atlanta is seeking its first series victory since taking three of four against Milwaukee from May 21-24. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons sat out for the second straight game Wednesday with soreness in his right hand after being hit with a pitch in Monday's 4-2 win over Boston, but manager Fredi Gonzalez expects him to play in this contest.

Pedro Ciriaco, who played 104 games for the Red Sox in 2012 and '13, started at shortstop the past two and went 5 for 8 with two doubles and three RBIs.

"We decided to hold (Simmons) out one more day, take some ground balls, take some (batting practice)," Gonzalez told MLB's official website.

Freddie Freeman won't be in the lineup, though, because of a sprained right hand as the Braves look to give Clay Buchholz some trouble for a third straight outing.

Buchholz (3-6, 4.22), who went 1-2 with a 1.47 ERA over his previous four starts, gave up four runs in 4 2-3 innings of Boston's 7-4 win over Oakland on June 7 before allowing the same amount of runs in six innings of the Red Sox's 5-4, 11-inning loss to Toronto on Saturday.

The right-hander also struggled in his only start against the Braves, giving up six runs and walking a career-worst eight in three-plus innings before Boston rallied for an 8-6 victory May 26, 2014.

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