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Rays 0, SF 7: Coming up a Littell short

Rays bats disappoint, but Zack Littell continues to add to his impressive transition to SP

Tampa Bay Rays v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This certainly isn’t the worst team in franchise history. Heck, they have already broken the 70 win barrier which is rarified air for most of those Devil Rays seasons.

But is there any doubt left this has been the most exhausting and overall dispiriting season in franchise history? If you like adversity, this might be the season for you.

Anyway, I bring that up because on the day the team, fans, and baseball world found out Shane McClanahan will not only miss all of this year, but all of 2024, the Rays delivered another lifeless game where the bats continued to seem ready for the agony that is existence in baseball in the year 2023 to end.

Too much? Too flowery? Too macabre? Well, I’m the dude on west coast time who got to watch all of this turdfest, while most of the folks reading this got to drift off to cozy dreamland somewhere between Thairo Estrada’s solo HR that lead to the end of Zach Littell’s brilliant return to San Fran, and before Kevin Kelly’s glass slippers turned into pumpkin Birkenstocks.

Zack Attacks (the zone)

Let’s start with the bright spot for the Rays: Zack Littell. Tonight was Littell’s first start back since his very public on-the-mound argument with Giants manager Gabe Kapler.

Littell attacked the zone, getting ahead of a ton of batters and utilizing a generous high strike zone (which went both ways) all evening. As Zack Littell continues his transition from reliever to starter, he is starting to utilize and harness more pitches as he gets the right mix.

Littell peppered that high strike so much that he forced an on-field shouting match with Kapler again: this time though it was between Kapler and the home plate umpire

Aside from a slider that Estrada was able to stay back and attack properly, for the first run of the game, Littell had San Fran dancing. Most importantly, he gave the Rays valuable innings and more hope of piecing together a rotation post three Cy Young candidates season-long losses.

Zack Littell finished with an impressive 5.2 IP 3 H 2 ER (1 of which was given up as an inherited run) 0 BB and 5 Ks. So far that’s 4 starts in a row where Littell has given the Rays at least 5 strong innings, and you really cannot say enough about how impressive he’s been thrust into a new role.

Littell deserved better than he got tonight, but in his own journey toward winning and sticking in a major league rotation, Zack’s well on his way to earning a role in October.

When the bats go down in the City

The Giants, much like in game 1, threw a combo Opener-Bulk/Bullpen day at the Rays bats, with much more success in game 2. The primary combo of Jacob Junis and Sean Manaea shoved the Rays around all evening.

Altogether, Junis and Manaea got 12 total Ks, and the Rays bats could only muster 3 hits, 3 BBs, and just 4 hard-hit balls.

Junis in particular looked sensational. Junis twirled slider after slider, keeping Rays batters wildly off balance. He was able to get 47% whiff rate on the slider, and 43% on his change-up. Junis in particular feels like a pitcher the Rays will eventually acquire and will have a breakout year as a starter, so think of this less as a disappointment in the Rays batters and more of an extended preview for your 2024 Opening week Rays 5th starter.

Kelly gets Shelled-y

Kevin Kelly has been a spectacular success story for a Rule 5 draft pick. However, because h was Rule 5, that means he must remain on the roster all year otherwise he has to be offered back. Which, for how the Rays and so many other teams operate, is not the best for keeping him cycled through and fresh with plenty of rest.

Kelly has thrown more innings (54.1 IP) than anybody else in the Rays bullpen. He’s also just 2 more innings away from his career highest (which was in high-A in 2021). It’s clear that he’s not as sharp lately as he has been for so much of the year, and if he had an option he’d almost certainly be on the Durham shuttle. Alas, that is not the case, and unfortunately, he was not able to limit the damage and keep this a pitcher’s duel.

Kevin Kelly took over for Littell in the 6th inning after the Giants’ Wade Meckler blooped a single with 2 out. On his first pitch in the game, Kelly laid a slider right into the Wilmer Flores’ bat path for a big pulled 2-run bomb.

After that, singles, errors, walks, missed throws and missed tags by Pinto behind the plate, and a whole lot of not great ball turned that 3 run lead eventually into the final 7-0 lead.

Rays flashing the leather

Jose Siri had quite a few nifty plays in the spacious, some might say cavernous, AT&T Park outfield dimensions. But Siri of course is a victim of his own excellence, and none of his plays are gonna make the highlights because he makes them all look so easy. They aren’t and we really shouldn’t take it for granted, but I’m certainly guilty of that myself.

The two big highlights in the field today came from Arozarena and the newest Rays SS Osleivis Basabe. The Randy one wasn’t a catch, but just a wild fun attempt. A scary one, for a team desperate to keep some star players on the field, but still an entertaining one from the consummate entertainer.

My favorite part of the play was the Giants fans rushing to help lift Randy back onto the field. No matter where he goes, Randy makes new fans and friends.

But by far the best play of the game came from Basabe. The now, and for the foreseeable future, starting shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, laid out to make a ridiculous diving grab and turned twirling throw to record the out.

Put a star next to that one! Frankly, Rays fans needed a highlight by a shortstop right about now. Hopefully the first of many dazzling plays for Basabe in the field!