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Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays have assured themselves their first losing campaign in seven years, and they and the Boston Red Sox are now coasting toward the end of the season with plenty of regulars sidelined.

The perennial playoff contenders conclude their season series Thursday night at Fenway Park with a pair of starting pitchers looking to build toward 2015.

Boston (69-89) evened the series with Wednesday's 11-3 win to match its second best offensive output of the season with David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks all out of the lineup.

"Youth is served," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, who started seven rookies for the franchise for the first time since 1971. "This is a talented group. We've got the opportunity to give them experience."

Middlebrooks has been out for two games with a hand injury, but the team is hoping he can return. Ortiz was also out of the lineup Wednesday because of left wrist discomfort and is day to day. Napoli has missed six games with back, finger and toe injuries.

Daniel Nava was in the lineup and extended his hitting streak to nine games.

The Rays (76-82) are without Desmond Jennings (knee) and Yunel Escobar (knee) for the rest of the season, and Ryan Hanigan (toe) was scratched Wednesday as the club clinched an under-.500 record.

"It's no fun to be in this position," manager Joe Maddon said. "For us, it's not acceptable. We expect to be in the playoffs on an annual basis."

Jeremy Hellickson takes the mound for the Rays against Boston's Allen Webster.

Hellickson (1-4, 3.96 ERA) is in search of a strong start after going 0-3 with a 5.45 ERA in his past seven, all of which have resulted in Tampa Bay losses.

The right-hander lasted just 4 1-3 innings in Friday's 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox while yielding four runs and seven hits. All the damage came in the fifth inning after the Rays had a 3-0 lead.

"It's just happened so many times this year, guys give me a three- or four-run lead, I throw four or five scoreless and the next inning I just lose it," Hellickson told MLB's official website.

His one outing against Boston this season contained no such letdown with 4 2-3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 win on July 26. He's 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts against the Red Sox.

Webster (4-3, 5.54) allowed fewer than two earned runs in a start of more than three innings for the first time in his career in Friday's 5-3 win in Baltimore. He surrendered a run and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings and didn't earn the decision.

He still wasn't thrilled with the consistency of his pitches.

"I wasn't really locating my offspeed stuff as well as I would have liked," Webster said.

His season debut came in Tampa Bay on July 27 and he faced them again on the road on Aug. 30, resulting in a 1-1 record and 7.71 ERA. The right-hander hasn't been overly hittable in those starts, but he's issued eight walks in 9 1-3 innings.

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