In possibly the most important start of his career, personally, Andy Sonnanstine's teammates had his back. With a Scott Kazmir decision looming in the next few days, Sonny's day did not exactly start the way he planned. After retiring the first batter of the game, Sonnanstine gave up four runs on five hits and trailed 4-0 after one half frame.
With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Pat Burrell singled and scored on a Carlos Pena double. After Pena's double, Ben Zobrist hit a line drive home run just over the short wall in left field to bring the Rays within one run. Zobrist showed shown signs of busting his slump going 2-4 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBI. He also walked once. In better news, the home run came off of a change up.
Filling in for the injured Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar tied the game up in the second inning with a solo home run, his sixth of the season. Aybar continues to live up to the best bench player in the game title going 3-4 with a home run, walk and three RBI. Five Rays players registered multi hit games including Jason Bartlett, who extended his hit streak to 19 games; a new Rays record. In fact, every Rays player had a hit, except B.J. Upton, who managed to reach base twice via the walk. Upton also made a huge throw doubling up Pedro Feliz off of first base on a fly ball negating a possible run with the Rays leading 6-4.
Gabe Kapler, hitting .435/.481/1.174 in the month of June coming into the game, went 1-1 with a walk and a double off lefty Antonio Bastardo. He was replaced by Gabe Gross, who hit his fourth extra base hit off of left handed pitching this year in 14 at-bats. All in all, the Rays would score 10 unanswered runs off the Phillies and help push Sonnanstine to a victory.
After the shakey first inning, Andy Sonnanstine really rebounded nicely and had a nice start. From innings 2-6ish, Sonny dominated the Phillies lineup. He allowed just one hit, one walk, one HBP while striking six over the next 4.1 innings. Sonny used 27 of his 97 pitches in the first and was lifted in favor of Grant Balfour after 5.1 innings of work. Balfour would throw 1.2 innings of shutout baseball, striking out two and walking none, but back to Sonnanstine. His seven K's on the night matched a season high. Sonny came into the game averaging around 15% sliders per game, but threw nearly 22% sliders tonight. He cut (no pun intended) his cutter usage down from 46.1% to around 37.1% tonight.
The rebound after the tough inning was nice, but was it enough to keep his job? The strikeouts are a very good sign, and this was the time since 5/6/09 that he didn't allow a home run. However, Jeff Niemann has shown signs of improvement this month. He holds a 3.74 ERA/3.15 FIP in the month of June. There were also comments from Sonnanstine expressing his willingness to pitch in any role including out of the bullpen. "I'm more than willing to do whatever's necessary to help this ballclub win. ... cross that bridge when we get to it," said Sonny via Marc Lancaster's twitter.
With both Kazmir and Chad Bradford set to return this weekend against the Marlins, that bridge is getting closer and closer.