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Rays 3, Nationals 4: At Least The Bullpen Got Some Rest

The Tampa Bay Rays couldn’t recover from giving up four runs in the first two innings.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Early mistakes proved too costly for Rich Hill and the Tampa Bay Rays as they lost 4-3 to the Washington Nationals Tuesday night.

The first inning could have been dedicated to Kyle Schwarber. In the top of the first, every ball with the exception of Brandon Lowe’s leadoff flyout was hit to Schwarber. The Rays offense showed some hope in the top of the first inning. Ji-Man Choi and Wander Franco hit back-to-back singles to left field off Joe Ross to put two base runners on with one out. That was as far as they would reach as both Austin Meadows and Joey Wendle would flyout to Schwarber in left field.

In the bottom of the first, Schwarber wasted no time continuing his involvement as he launched a first-pitch elevated fastball from Rich Hill for his Major League leading seventh leadoff homer of the year (EV 112.1, LA 28, 434 feet). Schwarber came into tonight’s game tied for MLB lead with 7 home runs on elevated fastballs this season and Hill came into the game locating his fastball up 57% of the time this season, making the the perfect storm for the blast.

The Nationals were just getting warmed up as Trea Turner hit a line drive for a double in the next at-bat. Keeping the consecutive extra-base hits going Juan Soto hit a line drive over the right field wall off of a Sinker almost perfectly centered over the plate for a two-run home run (113.4 EV, 19 LA, 378 feet) to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead in three at-bats. Later in the inning Josh Harrison hit a single to right field. In the next at-bat, Starlin Castro hit a double to left field and Harrison would get tagged out at third after getting caught between third and home. After a wild first inning the Nationals led 3-0.

After retiring the Rays in order including two strikeouts the Nationals were quickly back to add more runs to the scoreboard. Victor Robles received an elevated fastball from Hill and crushed it for the second first-pitch leadoff homer of the game for the Nationals (106.7 EV, 24 LA, 399 feet) to make it a 4-0 game. They certainly were ready and waiting for pitches over the heart of the plate and took full advantage for three home runs in the first two innings.

Following a mound visit, Hill walked Ross in five pitches. Hill was able to get Schwarber to ground into a double play. The Nationals challenged the close call at first but the call on the field was upheld. The second inning came to an end on a Trea Turner flout to left. Rich Hill let off some steam and mucous in-between innings.

After aggressively wielding the bat in the dugout, Hill reached first base on a bunt to leadoff in the top of the third. Thanks to a throwing error by catcher Yan Gomes, Hill advanced to second base. Things started to look better for the Rays as Brandon Lowe walked in a four-pitch at-bat. The bats cooled at that point as Choi had a flyout, Wander Franco hit into a forceout getting Lowe out at second and Austin Meadows was called out on a questionable called third strike.

Both lineups were retired in order in the fourth. Rich Hill looked more like his 2021 self. Hill only needed 13 pitches to get out of the inning and allowed nobody on base.

Speaking of looking more like themself, Brandon Lowe provided some much-needed offense for the Rays in the fifth inning. Lowe connected on a Ross fastball for a solo home run (EV 102.9, 36 LA, 400 feet) to make it a 4-1 game.

Hill continued to do his part to stop the bleeding in the fifth. Once again, he put together a 1-2-3 inning and only needed seven pitches to retire the side.

The Rays remained resilient in the sixth inning with some hope initially sparked by a Meadows double, his 20th of the season, giving them a runner in scoring position with one out. Two batters and an out later, Kevin Kiermaier hit a double to center that scored Meadows to trim the Nationals lead 4-2.

The sixth inning was Hill’s third consecutive inning where he retired the side in order. Ryan Zimmerman hit a leadoff single but a Gomes flyout and Harrison grounding into a double play limited the damage. Hill’s final line was 6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB and 2 K on 82 pitches. After his dugout meltdown, he only gave up two hits over four innings. His ability to recover and reduce the amount the bullpen had to be utilized can be helpful for later games in this road trip.

Brett Phillips gave the Rays a baserunner with a leadoff walk in the top of the seventh inning. Randy Arozarena was Ross’ last batter for the night after a swinging strike-three. Ross finished the game with 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 7 K on 88 pitches.

Sam Clay Replaced Ross and the first batter he faced was Yandy Diaz as Diaz entered the game pinch-hitting for Brandon Lowe. Diaz hit a single, advancing Phillips to second and giving the Rays the tying runs on base. Mike Brosseau entered the game to pinch-hit for Choi but grounded into a force out getting Diaz out at second and advancing Phillips to third. A Franco groundout ended the half-inning with the score still 4-2 Nationals.

Andrew Kittredge replaced Hill in the bottom of the seventh and continued the streak of only facing the minimum three batters in an inning. He got Castro to flyout, Robles to strikeout, and Parra was out on a line drive to left that was caught by Meadows.

Nothing exciting for either team happened in the eighth inning outside of Austin Voth coming in to pitch for the Nationals and Jeffrey Springs coming in for the Rays. Both pitchers retired the side in order including a strikeout each taking the game to the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead for the Nationals.

Brad Hand came in to replace Austin Voth for the Nationals in the ninth inning. Apparently, the Rays wanted in on some fo the leadoff home run action in this game as Mike Zunino hit a high home run (111.0 EV, 48 LA, 358 feet) to make it a 4-3 Washington lead.

Manuel Margot came in to pinch-hit for Springs but there was no rally left in the Rays bats as Margo, Arozarena, and Diaz would all be retired on five pitches to end the game.

The result is not what the Rays were looking for, especially as they are trying to wash away the poor results from the last road trip. The good news is it is only one game, Brandon Lowe showed glimpses of what he is capable of and Mike Zunino continues to impress at the plate.

The Rays look to split the two-game series tomorrow with first pitch scheduled for 4:05pm ET.