ATLANTA —For openers, Wednesday night wasn't looking good for the Rays. Rookie RHP Diego Castillo took the mound with the three-run lead his teammates cobbled, and promptly handed it right back, allowing a pair of two-out singles and a home run.
But then the Rays swung back, continuing a recent uptick in offense and rolling to an 8-5 win over the NL East-leading Braves.
C.J. Cron, as part of a four-hit night, and Tommy Pham homered as the Rays rapped 12 hits, posting double digits for the seventh time in their last games, averaging 6.4 runs per game in that stretch.
"We're getting a lot of contributions, a lot of good at-bats," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We've got some guys from that Boston series that have carried over. Guys have done a good job, they've had quality at-bats."
The Rays improved to 71-62 with the win, winning for the ninth time in 10 games and moving back to nine games over .500, one shy of their high in manager Kevin Cash's four seasons. They are off Thursday and open a weekend series with the AL Central leading Indians on Friday.
Joey Wendle, Carlos Gomez, Willy Adames and Pham also had two hits each in what was a multi-faceted performance.
"The offense as a whole (was) kind of piecing it together, doing some little things with the bunts and moving guys over and getting some big home runs," Cash said.
Cron said the offense has been a team effort.
"We've been swinging the bats well and you can tell we've been clicking," he said.
Castillo worked two innings for the Rays, then Jalen Beeks three, earning his fourth win for a middling performance, allowing four hits and three walks, with only 26 strikes in 49 pitches. "He was okay," Cash said. "Strike-throwing was a bit of a struggle."
The game started 41 minutes late due to rain and was interrupted in the middle of the sixth with the Rays leading 8-3, the delay lasting 1:26.
When play resumed at 11:26 p.m., the Rays used Chaz Roe and Adam Kolarek to get to the eighth, but Andrew Kittredge faltered, allowing two runs and leaving with two on and the tying run at the plate. Jose Alvarado got them out of the eighth and handled the ninth for his sixth save.
"He's gaining more and more confidence," Cash said.
Though the Rays don't seem likely to trade any players by Friday's deadline for postseason eligibility, if the do Cron is probably the most likely to go.
Cron, despite limited playing time, continues to showcase his power.
His homer leading off the third was his career-high-extending 25th on the year. Coupled with his first-inning double, he has 49 extra-base hits among his first 110, with a .256 average and a team-high 60 RBIs.
Cron, 28, is making $2.3 million this season and is likely headed via arbitration for a raise to around $5 million or so. With Jake Bauers targeted as the primary first baseman, Cron might not fit in the 2019 plans as primarily a DH.
He has already cleared waivers, so if a contender viewed him as a potential pickup, the Rays would make a deal.
RHP Sergio Romo was another potential trade candidate, but the Rays wanted to keep him and pulled him back off waivers when he was claimed.
Cron batted fourth in a lineup that was as right-handed as possible against Braves lefty starter Sean Newcomb. Adames hit leadoff, something manager Kevin Cash said is likely to happen if they face any other lefties, while OF Mallex Smith (viral infection) remains on the disabled list. Lefty-swinging Joey Wendle has hit first against right-handed starters.
Slumping 1B Rookie Jake Bauers was not in the lineup Wednesday due to the matchup with Braves LHP Sean Newcomb, but neither manager Kevin Cash nor hitting coach Chad Mottola feel the rookie needs more time off or to fix anything that's wrong despite a 3-for-49 stretch that, including a pinch-hit strikeout on Wednesday, dropped his overall average to .203. "His numbers are in a funk that he's dropped, but he smoked two balls (Tuesday), he hit a ball Sunday really well, the hits just aren't coming,'' Cash said. "I was kidding around him before one of those at-bats. He knows. He needs a broken bat, he needs a bleeder, he needs something. … He's fine.'' Mottola said there is nothing wrong mechanically, that it's more mental, that Bauers "has to manage this" in not allowing a bad count or first at-bat to get him down.
The Rays' 2019 spring schedule was released and includes several firsts: They will play the overall Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 22 at home in Port Charlotte against the Phillies; play the first game against USF since 2000 (and second overall) on March 5; and play the first game at the new North Port facility that will become the Braves' permanent spring home in 2020. (See schedule, below.) The Rays will wrap up the spring with a March 26 game against the Tigers at the Trop, two days before the season opener at home against Houston. The Rays play 17 games at Charlotte Sports Park, including five weekend dates. Spring camp opens with a Feb. 13 workout for pitchers and catchers, and the full squad first taking the field Feb. 18.
The Rays are expected to make at least a couple of additions when rosters can be expanded Saturday, then more when Triple-A Durham's season is over. Among the more interesting prospects who have not yet been called up are C Nick Ciuffo, RHP Ian Gibaut, OF Austin Meadows (acquired from Pirates), LHP Colin Poche and INF/OF Kean Wong. Others who have and might return at some point include INF Christian Arroyo and RHPs Jake Faria, Austin Pruitt and Jaime Schultz. "We've had a lot of guys at the upper levels doing some really interesting things that deserve to be rewarded,'' senior VP Chaim Bloom said. "The tough decisions we have sometimes are balancing that against the practical limitations of the (40-man) roster and that you can only run so many guys out there on a given night.''
Quote of the day
Cash, on what he expects Friday from good buddy and Indians manager Terry Francona, who has taunted him on previous visits to Cleveland with messages on the scoreboard during batting practice
• OF Austin Meadows, acquired in the Chris Archer trade, hit three homers as Triple-A Durham clinched the International League South Division title. Double-A Montgomery clinched a playoff spot for the fourth straight year.
• Rookie INF/OF Brandon Lowe's first big-leaguer homer Tuesday was indeed fueled by the GoGo SqueeZ apple sauce he has been eating most of the season: "I went to Publix on our off-day and bought a 12-pack, so I'm good for the road trip.''
• Amateur scouting director Rob Metzler, coordinator Jeff Johnson, senior advisor R.J. Harrison and other staff were at SunTrust Park on Wednesday after holding meetings in the area.