The Rays have had some tough games of late. They lost 2 of 3 in Detroit and came into this game having lost 2 of 3 to Miami. None of these games were blow outs, none involved tipping your cap for a lights out opposing pitching performance. The Rays could have won any of these games, and always seemed to be on the wrong side of the lucky bounce, just short of the clutch hit or the game-saving catch.
Rays look to turn it around against a tough opponent
Anyone familiar with Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez couldn't be optimistic that today would be the day to turn this bad mojo around. With his 95 mph fast ball, excellent curve and change, he can dominate lefties and righties alike.
I even sort of like him. Not only he a story of immigrant success and a product of Hillsborough County public schools, but he has an energetic presence and in his rookie year got into it with Brian McCann, which earns respect in my book (although he later apologized, much too profusely I would say).
But this doesn't mean I relish watching him work his magic here. I came into this game clinging to one glimmer of hope: He’s faced the Rays twice, both times at Tropicana Field, and lost both times, including a very shaky 3.1 inning performance almost exactly three years ago. Yes, it's a stretch, but maybe he's due for another bad day.
The Pitcher's Duel that Wasn't
The game started off looking like the pitcher's duel I'd expected. Smyly pitched a strong first inning - a comment that might seem at odds with the boxscore (two hits and 20 pitches thrown), but one of those singles could easily have gone as an error on Brad Miller. A good, patient Miller at bat in the Rays first yielded an infield hit, and the no hitter threat that seems to loom over every day game against a reasonably good pitcher was eliminated.
But the Marlins' second was a sad microcosm of things that are going wrong for the Rays. Derek Dietrich reached on a fly to center field that I'm 80% sure KK would have caught. Nothing against Guyer, he's OK out there, but he's missing those extra 2 steps.
Then came an extended at bat with Miguel Rojas, who was just a tad late on multiple 2 strike pitches until he finally pulled one to left field, scoring Dietrich and getting to third on a poor throw in from Dickerson and an inexplicable deflection by pitcher Smyly. Smyly then gave Hechavarria an easy pitch to hit for a homerun. 3-0.
Interestingly, in post-game interviews both Cash and Smyly pointed to the Rojas at bat as an unfortunate turning point. Cash thought the frustration of losing Rojas led to Smyly's poor execution against the next batter. Here's Smyly on that at bat:
i thought I made a lot of quality pitches at two strikes, they kept on fouling them off and fouling them off. Just like Rojas today. I tried to throw something else, I dropped a change up in there, and he flicks it over the short stop for a single. The next batter hits a home run.
Things didn't get better in the 3rd, as Smyly gave up a walk and another homer, making it 5-0 and most likely out of reach.
Rays get on the board
The Rays got one back in the 3rd on a Guyer first pitch solo homer, and credit to Brandon for taking this very tough righty deep. The bottom of the 4th saw the Rays' only significant threat, as Morrison and Dickerson singles followed by a Taylor Motter walk produced bases loaded with two outs. The Marlins had a quick mound chat with Fernandez, after which he induced a Curt Casali pop up. No joy in Mudville, and the Rays would not threaten again.
It only gets worse
After the crooked numbers of the 2nd and 3rd innings, Miami went quietly against Smyly in the 4th, 5th and 6th.
The 7th inning featured the debut of Clearwater-born Ryan Garton, who limited the Marlins to a chippy bloop hit, otherwise inducing ground outs. Billed as the "new Erasmo," Garton was given the ball for the 8th inning as well, and that didn't go as smoothly.
There weren't many really loud hits, but even quiet hits can hurt you when they come in groups of 5, and Garton allowed 3 runs to cross the plate. Asked about Garton's debut, Cash admitted that "things speeded up" for Garton a bit in the 8th. But he stressed Garton's good 7th, and praised him as a player who was scarcely on the team's radar a year or two ago, and who since then has dedicated himself to the team's program and has earned a call up to the major.
After Garton's two innings Ryan Webb and Dana Eveland both pitched and another run scored, so the final score was a painful 9-1.
Because we are a "glass half full" sort of site, let's talk about a few high notes:
- We were neither no-hit nor shut out, both of which seemed like real possibilities
- Drew Smyly pitched 4 outstanding innings. Unfortunately he was in the game for 6. Here's his assessment:
It was a frustrating because today I thought I had pretty good command...all my stuff was better than it has been for a while. Just a couple of bad pitches. That curve ball [to Hechavarria in the2nd), it just kind of stayed up....throw that curve ball three inches lower it's probably a ground out, inning over.
If he were seriously broken he wouldn't have been able to rebound after the 3rd inning. His control is pretty good (he only walked 1, and threw 73% of pitches for strikes); and he's not even getting badly hit around -- he gave up five hits and if two of them hadn't been home runs this would have been a very different game. This isn't much consolation as we think about turning the team's season around, but it at least suggests that he's got some more effective outings in his future.
- Taylor Motter had two nifty scoops and throws from third. He is a gracefully moving fielder, as we saw yesterday at short and today at third. I can see why the Rays value his versatility. He also ties his blond locks into a neat man bun after the game.
- Corey Dickerson got three hits. In postgame remarks Cash said this was his most positive take away, and hopefully the first stage of a LoMo type turnaround.
- There was a section of fans cheering the Marlins, or at least cheering every Fernandez strike out. I'm going to assume they are Jose's local friends and family, because honestly in 11 years of living in the Tampa Bay region I have never once met a Marlin's fan.
- I counted three Japanese media teams with a total of 7 reporters who do nothing but follow Ichiro Suzuki. It was a slow day for them as Ichiro didn't play; the team next to me did dutifully fill out a score card.