The Empire Strikes Back; Rays lose 6-2

Coming into last night's game, the Rays had a winning percentage of 1.000 when Elliot Johnson homered so Rays fans had to feel confident after watching the utility man once again go deep into the right-field bleachers early in the game. Yet, that confidence was short-lived as Alex Rodriguez awoke from his slumber and every Yankee but the red-hot Curtis Granderson contributed to a 12-hit performance off Rays pitching in taking down the Rays 6-2.

The game last night involved a very similar script seen many times at Tropicana Field this season, a script where good starting pitching is wasted due to an offense that struggles to produce runs and multiple baserunners in the same inning. The only run scored outside of Johnson's home run came in 9th inning garbage time, unless you count the home run taken away from Kelly Shoppach in the 9th inning (jump to the 0:40 mark) and the Rays ended up with a familiar line score of just two runs on six hits.

James Shields was sharp on the night, just not sharp enough. He threw first pitch strikes to 19 of the 29 batters he faced and picked up ten swinging strikes on the night including three swinging strikeouts of Derek Jeter. His pitch plot shows some of his problems last night as he had a lot of pitches up in the middle of the zone last night.

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via Brooksbaesball

 

He struck out nine while walking just one batter through seven innings of work while scattering eight hits but three of those hits were critical ones. Two of them were two long solo-blasts off the bat of Alex Rodriguez coming off a hanging change-up and what appeared to be a cut fastball on the outside corner. The other untimely hit came off the bat of career minor-leaguers Chris Dickerson that plated the eventual game-winning run in the 7th inning. 

That situation preceded a game-changing moment in the bottom of the 6th inning as the Rays had loaded the bases with just one out to chase Ivan Nova out of the game. The Yankees brought in David "K-Rob" Robertson to get out of the jam to face B.J. Upton and Casey Kotchman. Upton saw four pitches in the at bat, fouling off two fastballs while taking two more for strikes in a situation where the only worse outcome would have been grounding into a double play. Upton's failure to produce in the situation was compounded by Casey Kotchman's three-pitch strikeout whose seven percent strikeout rate in April has suddenly jumped to a 14 percent rate thus far in the month of May.

Other observations:

  • For the love of all that is holy, please stop hitting Sam Fuld leadoff. His seasonal slash line is down to .233/.285/.358 and he is getting on base just FIFTEEN percent of the time this month. Madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results and Maddon's insistence on hitting Fuld at the top is rather perplexing.
  • (Not hating) - There is little doubt that Casey Kotchman is now the starting first baseman on the team as he has started the last ten games in a row as the team has avoided a left-handed starter during that time. In that last stretch of ten games, he has had 37 at bats, has driven in one run, scored twice, and has hit .324 but has seen his batting average drop 46 points and 66% of his balls in play have been of the groundball variety. Ground-balling Jesse Litsch and junk lefty Jo-Jo Reyes are on the bump the next two nights for the Blue Jays so it is likely Dan Johnson gets one more chance to show something before he becomes the likely victim to the next roster shuffle as the club will make another move as early as Thursday night so J.P. Howell can re-join the team in Miami.
  • Cesar Ramos had a nice bounce-back outing coming off the unfortunate outing Sunday against Baltimore and got through the 8th inning while throwing just five pitches. 
  • 11-13 at home sucks and to expect the Rays to continue to play .765 ball on the road is unrealistic. We can only hope the home woes get worked out before the road bubble bursts and the travel schedule over the next few weeks will be a giant stress on the team's success on the road thus far this season. I mentioned this over the weekend in an earlier piece but the travel meme is just now getting traction. In case you missed it, here is what the Rays have on schedule for the next 3 weeks; that travel is worse than my business travel on a bad month.

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