If we were Boston we'd be freaking out right now. I think this is what a late season collapse must look like. Nothing goes right. If the offense scores a few runs, the back end of the bullpen blows the lead and the Rays lose. If the Rays get quality pitching, the bats go quiet, and they lose. Still, it's important to remember in times like these that we are not Boston. This team is every bit as good as the one that made a dramatic run to first place less than a month ago. Probably better, since Alex Cobb returned and is pitching like he's capable of. It could turn around at any moment.
At least you can't say that the Manager isn't trying. Joe Maddon didn't like the thought of Roberto Hernandez facing all of those left-handed hitters in the Oakland lineup so he decided to go with a different sort of experiment. He turned the game over to his expanded bullpen and sent Jamey Wright to the mound instead. It did not begin well.
Coco Crisp homered off of Wright's third pitch, and then Josh Donaldson walked. Jose Molina "framed" a foul tip strike three that he claimed to have caught but that actually hit the dirt, to retire Jed Lowrie, but then Brandon Moss walked as well, getting Alex Torres up in the bullpen. An infield single from Yoenis Cespedes loaded the bases. The experiment was not going well at all.
Alberto Callaspo worked the count full before hitting a fairly hard grounder, but right at Yunel Escobar for an inning ending double play. Wright threw 29 pitches in the first inning, making the chances of him lasting much longer in the bullpen game pretty slim.
James Loney tied the game up when he grabbed an elevated 88 mph fastball and shot it out to center. One might have been forgiven at this point if they saw the young finesse righty on the mound for Oakland, the soft fastball, and the 4.80 FIP and expected the Ray to score a few runs today.
When Jamey Wright returned to the mound to start the second, Alex Torres returned to the bullpen mound to continue warming up. When Stephen Vogt flied out to center field and the lineup turned over, it was time for Torres.
If the Rays had a hero in their indifferent effort today, it was Torres. He struck out no one and took the loss, but he did pitch 3.1 innings and gave up no earned runs. Someone needed to step up and soak up some innings to "save" the bullpen, and Torres did. His one unearned run came in the third inning. When Jed Lowrie bunted for a base hit down the third base line, Evan Longoria charged hard pulled off a nice barehanded pickup, but then fired his throw into the path of the runner so that James Loney couldn't make the grab. Lowrie advanced to third on the error and then came home on a Brandon Moss single.
Brandon Gomes started the sixth inning and only faced two batters, Cespedes and Alberto Callaspo. He struck out Cespedes, popped Callaspo up on the infield, and generally looked sharp. I'm not sure why he wasn't allowed to pitch to Daric Barton to try to end the inning, but I am confident that Gomes can be a valuable piece during the stretch run.
Wesley Wright faced the left handed Barton in Gomes's stead, and struck him out. He threw only fastballs in the at bat. It would be the only batter faced by Wright, as Jake McGee took over of the Rays in the bottom of the seventh.
Against McGee, Stephen Vogt worked the count full and then homered on the eleventh pitch of the at bat, a 95 mph fastball on the inside corner. Just tip the cap.
I seriously do not know what to make of Lueke. He has nothing left to prove in the minors. In his latest stint in Durham he struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings, while only walking 2.4 per nine. He allowed four earned runs in 57.1 innings. And yet whenever he appears on the big league club, something happens. He seems to leave his sinker and his breaking ball up and away an awful lot. He walks people. It's obvious that he has electric stuff, but it plays down and grounders always seem to find the hole in the infield.
Today, he walked the first batter in the eighth, and then gave up a grounder to Cespedes. He handily struck out Callaspo with an inside sinker that made him look absolutely silly, and then ceded the game to Cesar Ramos with two men on, one out, and a trio of lefties due. It was an outing that answered none of my questions.
Ramos did Lueke no favors. A single into the outfield and a chopper on the infield brought home both of those runners (charged to Lueke). The problem with Ramos in this situation is that he's just not a shutdown arm. He's got a bit of value because he's a lefty and he can go a couple innings in a pinch, but Ramos isn't the guy you want trying to strand your inherited runners (against the lefties, with McGee already used, that would be Peralta).
Some other notes:
- It was not a good day for the faces of the Rays, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. They both went zero for four, both struck out, both left men in scoring position with two outs, and Zobrist grouned into a double play.
- In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs, Wil Myers cracked a very hard liner into the alley and advanced to second. One batter later, Desmond Jennings also hit the ball hard, but more directly into left field, manned by Cespedes. I'm confident in saying that Cespedes has the strongest arm of any regular left fielder, but the Rays decided to run on him. He came up with a good throw to the relay man who sent it on to Stephen Vogt at the plate, where after a short dance, Myers was tagged out.
- The broadcast was talking all game about how tough the "high sky" in Oakland today made picking up fly balls. Desmond Jennings made them look real good when he let a one fall in short center field for an error in the seventh inning.
- Delmon Young got his first plate appearance as a Ray take two. He fought off a number of 95 mph fastballs before flying one to right field for an out. He didn't take any balls (although I'm not sure there were any to take), but to my eyes, his swing looked good. It's a strange feeling to see him back in a Rays uniform, but I kind of like it.
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