While starting the season with an injured pitching staff, the Tampa Bay Rays have received a nice surprise behind the plate from backup catcher Francisco Mejia.

In this weekend’s three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, which starts Friday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., Mejia may find himself in the lineup more often than a reserve would expect.

The 26-year-old switch hitter is batting .348 (8-for-23) with two homers and 10 RBIs and a .986 OPS in seven games.

His pinch-hit sacrifice fly beat Baltimore 2-1 in the season’s second game, and he homered and had three RBIs the next day to complete the three-game sweep of the Orioles.

In a rain-shortened 8-2 win on Wednesday that clinched a three-game road series against the Chicago Cubs, Mejia’s two-run homer off Marcus Stroman highlighted a four-run first inning. Mejia finished 2-for-3 with a double, two runs and three RBIs.

“Frankie has come up with some big hits in the early part of the season for us,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s really come up clutch.”

Mike Zunino, an All-Star catcher in 2021, is making Cash’s decision about who to start an easy one. Zunino has had a dismal start, posting just one hit in 25 at-bats (.040 average) and striking out 12 times in 27 plate appearances over eight games.

Ray right-hander Corey Kluber (0-0, 1.86 ERA), who has been strong through two starts this year, will try to even his career mark against Boston on Friday. He is 3-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 11 outings, including 10 starts, vs. the Red Sox.

Boston’s Thursday started off with bad news, as manager Alex Cora tested positive for COVID-19 and will not travel to Florida. He was replaced Thursday in the series finale against the visiting Blue Jays — a 3-2 Toronto win — by bench coach Will Venable.

On the injury front, the Red Sox got catcher Christian Vazquez back Wednesday from the COVID-19-related injured list but may be without J.D. Martinez in the series opener in Florida.

Martinez (left adductor tightness) left the Wednesday game after hitting a double in the third inning of Boston’s 6-1 loss to Toronto. He sat out Thursday and is listed as day-to-day.

“He mentioned it the other day that he was a little bit tight, but nothing to be concerned about,” Cora said. “Just felt that as soon as he hit that ball, he felt it running, and I think it was more about being smart about it and coming out of the game, taking care of it and hopefully something that’s only a couple days.”

In the first of two series games in which Boston will send out 2021 Rays starters, Michael Wacha (0-0, 0.96 ERA) will make his third start of the year on Friday. The right-hander holds a 0-3 record with an 8.16 ERA in three starts against the Rays, with Tampa Bay batters hitting .317.

Left-hander Rich Hill, who went 6-4 in 19 starts for the American League East champion Rays last season, is due to start for the Red Sox on either Saturday or Sunday.

Since the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, the Rays have won 18 of the 29 meetings with Boston during the regular season, but the Red Sox were victorious in the most recent (and most important) battle. They won three straight games to claim the best-of-five American League Division Series 3-1 last October.

–Field Level Media