The Rays practice of opening the game with a reliever has gotten a lot of press, some positive and some negative. Whether this practice is a good way of optimizing match-ups or a catastrophe that will overtax bullpens and downgrade the role of starter is yet to be determined. But up until now, at least, it’s worked out well for the Rays. Ryne Stanek and Sergio Romo have done their jobs, getting outs in the first and second innings, and Yarbrough/Andriese et al have been able to take the ball and pitch the team deep into the game.
Today was the first game where the opener was a spectacular failure. And sadly, for those who see the Johnny Venters story as a bright spot for the 2018 Rays, it was Venters who made it a spectacular failure. After defying the odds to make it back to the majors, and having a string of impressive relief appearances, today he was awful.
Here’s what his first inning looked like:
Single to Trea Turner
Walk to Bryce Harper
2 RBI double to Anthony Rendon
Mark Reynolds strikes out (bless you Mark Reynolds)
Walk to Juan Soto
RBI double to Michael Taylor
Venters left with 1 out, three runs in and two men on base. It could scarcely have been worse.
Ryan Yarbrough was brought in earlier than expected; he did manage to get two outs but not before giving up a two-run single to Tanner Roark, the opposing pitcher, to make the score 5-0.
And this being a National League, DH-less game, further complications ensued from Venter’s abbreviated appearance: in the top of the second, when the Rays managed to get two men on with two outs and could conceivably have climbed back into the game, it was Yarbrough who was up at bat, with no option in that situation to pull him for a pinch hitter. He did not drive those runs home.
A play by play account of this sort of blowout doesn’t seem useful, so I’ll just share a few highlights.
- The Nationals scored their sixth run in the bottom of the second; the inning ended with a close force play at second. National’s manager Davey Martinez indicated that might want to review the play, but apparently the umpire got tired of waiting for him to call for the challenge, and declared that the inning was over. Good for him! I am generally supportive of the review policies, but I don’t think managers should have unlimited time to do their own video review before asking for the official review.
- In the bottom of the fourth, Bryce Harper blooped a ball into shallow right field, and tried to turn it into a double. His slide, however, was Kelly-Shoppach-like (see below). Called safe initially, he was called out upon review:
- Mallex Smith made a very nice catch at the centerfield wall to end the third inning.
- Brad Miller is definitely pushing back against those who would like to see him gone. He’s been responsible for nearly all the Rays runs over the past three games. Today he was three for four. Carlos Gomez is maybe coming out of his slump, and C.J. Cron hit a loud home run off the foul pole.
- In the bottom of of the sixth, the Nationals got yet more hits and increased their lead to 9-2. With two outs, Yarbrough was removed and replaced by Sergio Romo. Michael Taylor, who was at second base, took off with the steal of third. Rays catcher Wilson Ramos’ throw to third was way off line, allowing Taylor to score. As I watched that I recalled that to some old timey unwritten rules types, stealing third in a blow out is considered bad form. Indeed I remembered a time not too many years ago when the Rays and Red Sox ended up brawling because the Red Sox objected to a Yunel Escobar steal when the Rays were a mere five runs up. Well sure enough the next inning, the television broadcast showed Romo jawing with Michael Taylor after the inning ended, and then angrily pacing muttering in the dugout. So apparently Romo didn’t like that play.
- Being down eight runs at least gives you the opportunity to ease your highly touted reliever just brought up from Durham into his first major league game. Diego Castillo was brought in to pitch the seventh. The hard throwing righty had a 1.03 ERA at Durham, where he was striking out more than one batter per inning. He retired the side in order, striking out two, although it did take him 11 pitches to get Trea Turner.
- But wait, just I’m about to post this I see: