FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) – Clay Buchholz’s final Grapefruit League start fell apart in the fourth inning.

Buchholz allowed six runs and nine hits over 5 1-3 innings but the Boston Red Sox rallied for an 8-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. His spring ERA jumped from 0.46 to 2.52.

Matt Joyce and Gabe Gross each hit a two-run homer off Buchholz in the fourth.

“I think in a span of six pitches, they scored the four runs,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “We had two popups that we didn’t convert and then the two home runs. But I tell you what, I think all spring he set out to make decisions hard for us and I mean that in a good way, and he’s done a terrific job.”

The date and location of Buchholz’s next start depends on Brad Penny, who is scheduled to start Thursday and is being brought along slowly. Shoulder problems limited Penny to 19 games last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and just nine innings after June 14.

Penny is expected to be the fifth starter. But Buchholz could pitch for the big league team if Penny is not ready by April 12, the first day the team would need a fifth starter.

“If Penny’s ready to go, they’re going to give him the ball and I’ll start in Pawtucket,” Buchholz said he was told. “And if not, I’m the next guy in line. So, I’m just going to keep coming out every day and doing work and hopefully something good’ll happen. Something’ll come out of it.”

Andy Sonnanstine worked seven innings for the Rays, yielding five runs and six hits. He struck out two and walked two as he continued working on his changeup.

“I’m throwing it with more accuracy and more deception,” he said. “It’s kind of a learning process. Like today I had a lot more good things than bad things. And just the fact I’m throwing it more is helping my confidence, and to right-handed hitters.”

Notes: Boston reassigned OF Jeff Bailey to minor league camp. … Jon Weber hit a two-run homer off Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson in the sixth. … Jason Varitek hit a three-run home run off Sonnanstine in the seventh.

AP-ES-03-31-09 1909EDT


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