It's been tough at home on the Rays recently, as they've dropped two straight series on this ten-game homestand. Entering Tuesday night's affair with the visiting Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay was 2-5 at the Trop during the current string. Behind a recently healthy Erasmo Ramirez, coming back from a groin strain that forced him to miss one start, the Rays hoped to turn their luck around. That was not the case.
Ramirez and Cleveland starter Danny Salazar started the game trading off perfect frames over the first two innings. Unfortunately, it was Ramirez who blinked first, leaving a bad fastball over the plate for the hot-hitting Jason Kipnis, who promptly deposited it three rows deep in right field.
Ramirez was very strong after giving up that home run, retiring seven straight batters afterward. After giving up a leadoff single in the sixth inning to Michael Bourn (who was caught stealing by Curt Casali) and getting some revenge on Kipnis by striking him out, he walked Indians' shortstop Francisco Lindor, which would end his night, going 5.2 innings while only giving up two hits and the lone run on the long ball and striking out seven. It was a strong return for Ramirez, that got wasted by a recurring Rays theme of late: An anemic offense.
What is it about this team that lends itself to letting opposing pitchers chase perfection? Perfect games and no-hitters are rare occurrences in baseball. A pitcher even getting to six perfect innings prompts ESPN to give me an update on my phone to tune in, and that only occurs maybe once a month or so during the season. How is it that this Rays' offense has allowed pitchers to get to the sixth inning without a baserunner three times this week?
It happened again on Tuesday night as the flame-throwing Salazar went 7.2 innings of two-hit ball, giving up only a walk and a double to Asdrubal Cabrera and a double to Casali in the sixth. He did walk a second batter late in the game. The thing is, he only struck out two Rays' hitters, and those both came in the first two innings. The Rays were putting balls in play with hardly any results to show for them. Weak grounders and pop-ups galore. The Rays did hit a few hard line drives and tough-to-play groundballs that saw the Cleveland infield (Lindor in particular, with the exception of a bad error in the bottom of the eighth that would end his starter's night) make some great plays, but for the most part it was just weak contact.
In the meantime, the Rays bullpen picked up where it left off last night, as the starter left the game after a respectable performance with the game still in a position for the Rays offense (if it could muster anything) to bring them back into it, only to see the wheels fall off after they hand the ball over. After Xavier Cedeno got David Murphy to ground out to start the seventh, Steven Geltz took over. After giving up a single to Carlos Santana, getting Yan Gomes to fly out and walking Brandon Moss, he too left a fastball up for Giovanny Urshela to crush into the left field seats, making it 4-0 Indians.
But the Indians weren't done victimizing Rays' relievers yet. The top of the eighth saw Kirby Yates take the mound. After getting Lindor to fly out, Michael Brantley doubled to the gap in left. The very next batter was Murphy who hit a towering home run that I'm still surprised didn't catch one of the catwalks, making it 6-0 Cleveland.
Tampa Bay finally got on the board in the bottom half of the eighth, after a Logan Forsythe walk and a double by Cabrera that brought Forsythe in all the way from first. Cabrera scored from second after a potentially inning-ending groundball ate up Lindor at short, causing him to rush the throw that went past Santana at first, making it a 6-2 deficit.
That score would stand after the Indians' Cody Allen got Grady Sizemore to fly out to center and Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe to strike out to end the game, 6-2 Indians.
My Two Cents:
- Two nights in a row now, the bullpen has gotten roughed up. This Rays bullpen has thrown the most innings in the Majors this season, with the next closest teams being the middling Arizona Diamondbacks and the laughingstock Phillies. Are we seeing the resulting fatigue from such use?
- Adding to that point, it's not been confined to one or two pitchers. Geltz struggled against the Red Sox on Friday after retiring 28 straight batters and again tonight. Kirby Yates on back-to-back appearances. Ron Belisario caved last night, giving up four earned runs (though he did rebound well tonight). Maybe I'm wrong; maybe we're just seeing bad luck strike a lot all at once. That said, I hope I'm wrong . . .
- On a brighter note, it's great to see the injury progress some high profile Rays are making. James Loney and, most notably, Matt Moore should return this week with John Jaso rehabbing for a return soon and Jake Odorizzi not far behind him. Now that of course will lead to quite a logjam of potential left-handed bats for very limited lineup spots, but that's Future-Kevin Cash's problem.
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