If Kevin Cash’s goal was to protect his bullpen, then mission accomplished.
If his goal had been to win the game, he and his team fell short.
Jalen Beeks, the Rays lefty who has performed bulk and starter duties, was inconsistent today — more on that later. But a pitcher who has struggled to turn over lineups without getting into trouble was allowed to pitch five innings, going three times through the top of the Padres order, and over that time he threw 92 pitches, giving up five hits, five earned runs, while walking two and striking out six. Cash was so committed to leaving Beeks in there that he even let him hit in the top of the fifth inning, basically giving up an out, and sending him out to pitch the bottom half of the fifth, when he yielded his fifth run.
It may be that prioritizing rest for a very taxed bullpen was the right move for the upcoming stretch. Maybe when the Rays went down 4-2 in the fourth Cash decided that the odds of coming back were low enough that saving his bullpen from an extra inning was more important than the marginal benefits of pulling Beeks earlier. Maybe he’s right to manage this way. It’s a long season. Just as outfielders need to learn not to dive after every ball, managers have to figure out when to conserve resources.
Nonetheless, in a tight race for the Wild Card, it is hard to see the team prioritize anything other than a win, so I found today’s loss to be very frustrating.
To be clear, it’s not Cash’s fault that the best he had today was Jalen Beeks. It was his choice, however, to keep him pitching for as long as he did.
But let’s start at the beginning.
The game actually began on a very positive note.
Tommy Pham has been playing with a sore hand, and his injury has probably contributed to his difficulties hitting the ball with authority since late July. Well, he flipped that script to start off today’s game. First Eric Sogard gave a master class on how you lead off a game – a patient 11 pitch at bat that resulted in a walk. So he was on base when Pham launched the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers, to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
And that’s 113 mph for our Mr. Pham.
Enjoy, because that’s the Rays offense for today.
And for a hot minute it looked like that lead might hold up.
Jalen Beeks got the first five guys out without a hiccup. But then with two outs in the second, facing the bottom of the order, he allowed four men in a row to reach base. First came two walks as he suddenly and dramatically lost the strike zone, and then two RBI singles, the latter from the pitcher, Cal Quantrill, logging his first MLB hit. The score was tied at 2-2.
Things were quiet until the bottom of the fourth inning, which included some sloppy play, some bad luck and some hard hit balls. Eric Hosmer hit a grounder in between the pitcher and first; it was ruled a single but surely could have been an out with quicker action by Choi and Beeks (Beeks went to cover first but seemed to stop before he got there so Choi’s throw was beyond his reach.) Hosmer advanced to second on a wild pitch. Still no one out, Mejia hit a soft single to center, putting runners on the corners. Urias lined a double into left field scoring both batters. Beeks managed to get two outs, but then Manuel Margot’s grounder somehow got by Duffy and Adames for another single. Fortunately Wil Myers cooperated with an easy inning ending fly out.
Surprisingly, Beeks came up to hit with one out in the fifth – surprising because Beeks was shaky and because you’d think Cash would have a sense of urgency to get some offense going. Maybe he would have made a different decision had there been a runner on base, or had the Rays not had a short bench (with the injured Garcia replaced by a pitcher rather than a position player).
Beeks was out there again to pitch the fifth inning, where he once again got two outs before giving up a home run to Eric Hosmer, on a changeup, making the game 5-2.
I mention the changeup because Brian Anderson made me aware of the problems with this pitch. Beek’s change up, at 86-87, is basically a slightly slower version of his fastball, at 91-92 mph. Offspeed pitches work by messing up a batter’s timing but, as Anderson noted, just a few miles an hour difference means that the change-up just looks like a fastball that has thoughtfully slowed down just a tad. This seems like the sort of weakness that a pitcher and coaching staff would look to correct!
Anyway, José De León, who had been brought up from Durham to soak up a few innings, got through the sixth with no problems but opened the seventh by issuing a walk to Wil Myers, a gift to the slumping outfielder. Machado singled to put two runners on, and both runners moved up an a wild (and I mean very very wild) pitch. He struck out Renfroe, and then they intentionally walked Hosmer to load the bases, pitching instead to Mejia.
It always makes me nervous to load the bases intentionally, although I understand the reasoning, because telling a pitcher YOU HAVE TO THROW STRIKES is a great way to turn up the pressure. And that indeed took its toll; while De León struck out Mejia on three really nice pitches, he hit Urias and thereby walked in run number six. The next batter grounded out to end the inning. Colin Poche came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth, giving up a walk and a single to allow another run, with a few less than clean plays helping the Padres along. Thanks to not scoring enough runs the Rays did not need to pitch the 9th (see, saving resources with the loss!)
As for the Rays hitters, there were a few walks and singles and what seemed like a lot of warning track fly balls but nothing close to a threat.
Silver linings? De León’s appearance seemed pretty strong to me, which may sound strange given that he loaded the bases and forced in a run. But he turned up the heat (up to 95 mph) and got whiffs on some really good sliders.
Winning series is always nice! Tommy Pham hitting bullets (he had a liner single in addition to the home run) is nice. Thinking that De León can contribute to the team is nice. Still sitting in the second Wild Card slot is nice.
But a sweep would have been nicer.
Our guys having some fun: