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Rays 1 Orioles 7: 89 mph pitches over the heart of the plate turn into home runs

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Pitching and offense take the night off

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Jose Alvarado had one of the most ineffective innings I’ve ever seen from a pitcher, and yet he was not the one who cost the Rays this game. In a “hold my beer” sort of moment, Austin Pruitt (6 runs in 5.2 innings) and the entire Rays offense (1 run) seemed eager to help wash away our memory of Jose’s first inning breakdown.

We all know that when Jose Alvardo is going well he is an incredible weapon out of the Rays bullpen. A lefty who throws 98 with movement and can strike out players from both sides of the plate is a rare find.

But this season has been a bad one for El Pocho. He’s needed substantial time away from the game for personal and medical reasons, and when he’s been on the mound he has struggled, most notably with a dramatic loss of command. Deep counts, walks and wild pitches have led to seven losses. And while we at DRB generally don’t talk about pitcher wins and losses, in his case those losses are pretty much all late inning blown leads.

His “open” today was, I think, a last ditch effort to see if he could regain his bearings in a slightly different situation. Maybe without the pressure of high leverage; with the advantage of knowing exactly when he would take the mound, Alvarado would be able to harness his talents. Kevin Cash nearly said as much:

From Marc Topkin:

“We’ve got to get Josie going, somehow,’’ he said. “We can’t have pitchers on this staff that we can’t have confidence using. Right now Josie’s pitching with basically half a pitch. He’s got a fastball that sometimes he throws it for a strike, sometimes he doesn’t. The breaking ball has not been a factor him. We’ve got to get him going.’’

Rays fans will have noticed that Cash almost never speaks critically of a player to the media. I can’t recall another instance. So when he says he has lost confidence in the pitcher, when he says Alvarado is working with “half a pitch” you know that player is in the doghouse. This was, I would think, Alvarado’s last shot to show that he could be entrusted with critical innings during a pennant race.

Sadly he did not regain Cash’s trust, or anyone else’s.

If you read the box score you’ll see that he gave up a run and a hit and think, well, that’s not so bad. But there were the three walks. The two wild pitches (one of which I think a better defensive catcher would have gotten). You’ll see that he threw 24 pitches. You’ll see that nine of those pitches were strikes.

It was awful.

So awful in fact that Cash did something I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do.

With two men on, one out, and Alvardo behind Stewart 3-0, Cash went to get Alvarado. He did not even wait for the at bat to end. He brought in Austin Pruitt, who was due to pitch behind Alvarado’s open. Stewart was walked intentionally and then Pruitt, wonder of wonders, induced a double play grounder to end the inning.

It was one of the most painful innings of pitching I’ve seen in a while, and Jose knew it:

Alvardo is comforted in dugout

Alvarado left with the score 1-0; still a winnable game. But not for long.

In the third inning Alberto singled, then Pruitt got two strikeouts but gave up a single with the runner going to give the Orioles runners on the corners. Alberto had a huge lead off third – Duffy wasn’t holding him on – and Pruitt seemed to get distracted, as Alberto would have been directly in his line of vision as he set up between pitches. Really, Alberto’s lead should not have been very meaningful to Pruitt. With two outs, Alberto was going to score if someone got a hit but not score otherwise.

Pruitt went ahead of Stewart 1-2 (just one more strike, Austin!), but then walked him to load the bases. And you know what happens when you throw a wimpy 91 mph four seamer over the dead center of the plate? A major league hitter like Pedro Severino can square up on it pretty well and hit it out of the park. So after being just lucky enough to get out of the first with minimal damage, the Rays gave up four runs in the third, an inning that Pruitt at first seemed to have pretty well under control. 5-0 Orioles.

One inning later, solo homers by Alberto and Villar made the score 7-0.

The Rays offense? A few scattered hits and a solo homerun by Mike Brosseau. Baltimore pitchers were nicely in the zone today; they walked no one and their starter, John Means, was seldom behind in the count. Final score, 7-1.

Oddly enough, considering he gave up six runs, I didn’t think Pruitt looked terrible. He only walked one, struck out six. But he doesn’t have the stuff to be pitching over the heart of the plate, so when he misses just a tad on location the results are ugly. It was frustrating that much of the damage against him came with two outs and often with two strikes. In this respect I guess he profiles very much like the fifth man he is. If he couldn’t get out major league hitters at all, he wouldn’t be pitching for the Rays even as the 8th guy on the depth chart. But if he could get hitters out without a painful mistake or two every game, he’d be someone’s ace.

After a game like this it’s natural for fans to focus on the pitching errors. But if your team only scores one run, chances are you will lose the game.

The Rays can still take this series with a win tomorrow. It’s, as usual, TDB on the mound, with Jalen Beeks likely to get bulk innings (please just once through the order, please just once through the order). Baltimore will start Dylan Bundy,

And then this (possibly contributing to Alvarado’s difficulties):