You never want to see a six run lead shrivel down to just one, but as long as you win the game the details don't matter so much. The Rays started a long road trip off on the right foot tonight.
Jeremy Hellickson was very much in control through five innings, allowing just one hit and two runs. The sixth inning proved to be a bit different, and Jose Bautista wasn't even the problem. Hellickson allowed doubles to Corey Patterson and Aaron Hill, a walk to Arencibia, and a single to Eric Thames. With the Rays' lead now down to two, and two men on base with two outs, Maddon decided to bring in Juan Cruz to face Rajai Davis, who grounded out. Hellickson had thrown just 89 pitches, but he was laboring in the sixth, missing up in the zone and not showing the effectiveness he needed. I'm confident Hellickson could have retired Davis - he's not a great hitter - but I trust a rested Cruz more in that situation than a clearly struggling Hellickson.
Once again Hellickson's changeup was utterly disgusting. He threw it 38 times for 27 strikes, 10 of the swinging variety. After his departure the bullpen held down the fort, allowing only one hit over the final 3.1 innings. The most interesting situation arose in the 7th inning. The Jays were down just two at this point and Yunel Escobar on first base with two outs. Joe Maddon called for Cesar Ramos to intentionally walk Jose Bautista, bringing the go ahead run to the plate in the form of Aaron Hill. The move paid off as Hill flew out to shallow right field. That was the ultimate sign of respect for Bauttista, and he deserves it. No one is better than he is right now. Taking your chances with Hill, no matter what you think his current talent level may be, is better than challenging Bautista in my opinion.
Tonight's offense was all created in the second and third innings with help from the hilariously awful Blue Jays' defense who committed four errors during those frames. Watching Edwin Encarnacion play first base was one of the highlights of the baseball season for me, and that's not a compliment. The offensive stars were, of course, Matt Joyce and also, not as obviously, Elliott Johnson. Joyce clubbed his 7th home run of the season in the third, while Johnson collected a double and his first career triple in route to a three RBI night. There's not much opposing right handed pitchers can do right now against Joyce. He's not quite at the Jose Bautista level, but he's currently the next best thing against righties.
- To reiterate, the bullpen was great tonight. Joel Peralta again pitched more than one inning, this time going 1.1 innings of scoreless ball. I don't think there is a better and more cost effective 1-2 punch in the back of a bullpen right now. Perhaps the Marlins.
- J.P. Howell rejoins the team Friday. If he can come back healthy, a Cruz, Howell, Peralta, Farnsworth high leverage team has the potential to be scary good.
- Props to Elliott Johnson. His play over the last two games has been excellent.