Ian: The Rays needed to win this game to give themselves another yet another opportunity to clear the .500 mark, and yesterday they received news that their task would be somewhat easier than they had originally expected.
Robbie Ross Jr., replacing Yu Darvish, started off the game in impressive fashion by striking out the side in the first inning. It was a pretty good Darvish impression the first inning, striking out the side, but Ross is not actually Darvish. There's a reason he's struck out only 13% of the batters he's faced since assuming a part-time starter's role this season in the majors, and the seeds of his second-inning destruction were evident even during his first-inning success.
Ross throws an average, low-90s four-seam fastball, a potentially better sinker, two breaking balls, and a seldom-used changeup. His pure stuff is adequate but not impressive, and his command is not good enough to consistently elevate his stuff. He's essentially Texas's version of Cesar Ramos -- someone who who fills a roster spot perfectly well, but the fans would really rather he never actually pitched.
Like Ramos, Ross is not afraid to pitch inside, and he started the game by punching out both Brandon Guyer and Ben Zobrist by bringing his fastball down and inside and under their swing for strike three. Evan Longoria, up next, was wise to the inside fastball, and fouled a few of them off with healthy swings, but Ross was able to fool him with a slider high and away in the zone for strike three. As I often say about Ramos, it was a brave approach, but perhaps not a sustainable one.
In the second inning, Ross got two outs on balls in play, but Adrian Beltre was unable to pull off a barehanded pickup and throw on a soft grounder down the line against Yunel Escobar, and that brought Logan Forsythe to the plate with a man on base.
Ross had continued to work that inside bottom corner of the plate against righties, and if I could notice the pattern seven hitters in, then you know that the Rays batters, professional baseball players all, were on top of it as well.
Danny: Two called strikes put Logan Forsythe down in the count -- cutters inside, as you said -- but the third pitch was an inside fastball that didn't get down like Ross's better ones, and Forsythe was ready. He pulled his hands in and lofted the ball deep to left. It carried well, the way fly balls always seem to do in Arlington, and the Rays were up 2-0.
And might I say, Forsythe has only looked progressively more comfortable with his strike zone, indicative of the improvements the Rays roster has been making in the second half of the season. Heading into this game, Forsythe had a 96.6% contact rate on pitches in the zone, as well as a 79.2% rate outside, over last thirty days. Combined with a closer-to-expected 8.7% walk rate, and we have a strong improvement from a slow start to the season in the platooned infielder.
Another role player, finally healthy and on a tear, is Brandon Guyer, who got on base in the top of the third on a single to right field, and broke late to steal second during Evan Longoria's at bat, one out later. Evan answered with a bloop single to left, and thanks to his better position on the base paths, Guyer was able to score the third Rays run. Guyer was giving Desmond Jennings a breather, after he ran headlong into the wall in center field two nights ago, and he continued to do exactly what you want of your lead off man: aggressive base stealing, slap hitting, great poise.
James Loney brought Longroria around by hooking a fastball inside against the shift for the fourth Rays run. It was the sixth fastball of the seven pitch at bat. If the Rays can have three guys with serious contact ability sprinkled through the line up against lefties - in Loney, Guyer, and Forsythe - moving Longoria to third in the order is a way to keep him free swinging and looking for his power stroke to return.
This evening, Longo was batting third, and later in the fifth, he walloped a fastball (5th of 6 in the at bat) to the corner in left on a strong swing and a towering shot. There was no doubt, but it was certainly up the line.
Ian: Jake Odorizzi was excellent once again, completing seven innings of two-run, four-hit baseball while walking only one Ranger and striking out seven. Of his 102 pitches, a hefty 63 of those were fastballs (numbers from Brooks Baseball), with his splitter ranking as the next pitch with 22 appearances.
One of the most interesting aspects of Odor's recent development is the way his big, slow curve, which was so effective in the second quarter of the season, has now taken a step back in usage to make room for his slider. There's really nothing t note about his slider, but he threw it nine times tonight (compared to the curve's eight), and it worked, ending up a strike five times and resulting in no hits.
If there's one lesson Odorizzi has taught Rays fans this year, it's that smart usage and good command can turn any pitch plus.
Final Line - 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K - 102 pitches, 69 strikes, 51 SNIP's
Danny: Jake-n-the-Box was called upon to handle the hold-n-save, and did so with the help of solid defense -- particularly Kevin Kiermaier, who got two excellent jumps in center field to keep the Rangers off the board.
Texas would scored three runs on two homers in the game, off the bats of Geovanny Soto in the fourth inning and Rougned Odor in the eighth. The latter was the first home run allowed by Jeff Beliveau in 2014, in the majors or minors, an opposite field shot.
This weekend, the Rays begin their looming stretch of 29 games against AL East opponents, over 32 games in total. The other three are a series against the Tigers that will bring David Price home one final time this season.