OAKLAND, Calif. – The ending was, obviously, disappointing, a 7-3 loss to the A's that halted the Rays' latest winning streak at five and sent them off to Seattle with a little less buzz.
But the Rays insist that the way they're opening some games such as Thursday's — with a reliever starting and a starter relieving — remains promising.
It seemed to be part of the problem Thursday.
Opener Ryne Stanek allowed two of the first three batters in the second to reach base, then Ryan Yarbrough, trying to tie his warmup to the game situation, entered and allowed both of them and another to score, and the Rays never climbed out of the hole that grew to 5-0 in the seventh and 7-0 in the eighth.
"I think it's worked fine,'' manager Kevin Cash said "I think it's worked really well. It was a 3-0 ball game. If we're giving up three runs or less, we're going to put ourselves in a lot of good situations to win games.''
The Rays have used an officially designated opener for six games — Stanek twice and Sergio Romo four times — and are 3-3.
Romo is slated for the seventh tonight against the Mariners, and — with only three established starters in their rotation — Cash said they plan to keep doing it.
"I think it alters a lineup's approach a little bit, throws a wrinkle in it,'' he said. "Is it going to continue to work? Are we going to have the same thoughts that we have right now as we do in maybe August or September? I don't know.''
For the record, neither Stanek nor Yarbrough said the arrangement factored into the results, though it's certain they would since it's part of the reason both are in the majors.
Stanek said he felt just as good in the second inning as in the 1-2-3 first, just that he left up a pitch that Khris Davis doubled, then just missed on a couple of pitches in walking Chad Pinder.
Yarbrough similarly felt he misfired on the pitch in which Stephen Piscotty doubled in two, followed by Mark Canha's RBI single, before settling in, at least until giving up two homers in the seventh.
Marc Topkin joins Rick Stroud to discuss how the Rays recovered from a disastrous start to the season to push their winning percentage above .500. #Rays #RaysUp @TB_Times @TBTimes_Rays @NFLSTROUD https://t.co/s1VDSsdWt9— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) May 31, 2018
"I think the logic is still good behind (the plan),'' Stanek said. "It's just one of those days where a little execution caught me and caught us. It still works, but the sample size is still small. … It still makes sense for me.''
Other thoughts from the matinee:
• To get to the end of May and more than one-third through the schedule with a winning record at 28-27 would be an accomplishment for the Rays, even more so given the injuries, controversial strategies, roster shuffling, schedule challenges, 1-8 and 4-13 starts, and other adversity they've endured.
"It's fantastic,'' infielder Joey Wendle said. "Just continue to win series, that's our goal. Just continue to play the way that got us to this point (24-14 since April 18, among the majors' best). It's a fun team to be on because you never know who is going to step up that day. One through nine we could do damage, or we could throw a shutout.''
"The guys should feel really good; really, really proud of themselves,'' Cash said. "There's work to be done. There's no doubt, we can always get better. We're doing a good job. We've come together as a team multiple times this year. But it's very, very early. We've got to continue to get better and play good baseball.''
• Sometimes the other pitcher really does deserve credit. Oakland's Daniel Mengden certainly did, using a funky delivery and rhythm — plus a mesmerizing mustache — to limit the Rays to three singles through the first eight innings. It was only because they rapped three straight to start the ninth, leading to their four runs, that he didn't finish, ending his scoreless streak at 25 innings and missing out on back-to-back shutouts.
• The Rays still managed to show some fight. Down 7-0 on getaway day after winning the first three of the series, they delivered the three hits to chase Mengden and scored twice, then kept battling with a walk and a two-out RBI double by Christian Arroyo to get the tying run to the on-deck circle.
"That's kind of a staple of what this club has done,'' Cash said. "We came up short, obviously, but they were still putting together good at-bats and finding ways to knock in some RBIs.''
• The final out was a fitting reminder of it not being the Rays' day. Shortstop Chad Pinder tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch of Johnny Field's pop-up, then when it bounced out of his glove, he grabbed it with his bare hand for a highlights-show play.
"I wish he would have dropped it,'' Cash said.