HOUSTON — You can decide what was a more telling sign of how bad Monday night was for the Rays in a 14-7 loss:
That starter Alex Cobb pitched only three innings, or that catcher Jesus Sucre had to pitch one.
Either was telling as the Rays lost for the ninth time in their last 12 games.
All the moves they are making — good, bad and in the case of Monday's trade of Tim Beckham, debatable — to help their playoff push won't matter much if they don't start winning more games soon.
"Good thing losses don't count double, they only count as one,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "It certainly felt like a double loss. Good thing we get to bounce back tomorrow and try to get going.''
Cobb got hit early and often, giving up eight runs in just three innings' work, and his teammates provided little support until scoring four off the B-side of the Houston bullpen in the eighth.
"Alex today just didn't have it,'' Cash said. "He couldn't quite command the baseball. He was just missing over the plate too much. And they didn't miss anything either.''
Cobb, who'd lost only once in his last nine starts, didn't have much of an explanation. He said his arm felt great, he wasn't sick, got his normal rest.
"It was just one of those nights,'' he said. "I didn't have it. It was unfortunate coming off the tough road trip to New York and I was looking to pick it up in this series and set the tone, but the ball just wasn't going where I wanted it to and didn't have much life on it.''
"Couldn't tell you,'' he said. "I don't know. Maybe mechanics are off and then you're trying to do too much with your body and then if affects your location. ... Don't have a reason for you. It was just a bad day on my end.''
The lone bright spot was that leftfielder Corey Dickerson continued to show signs of warming, hitting two home runs, his 20th and 21st.
"Probably the highlight of the day for us,'' Cash said. "It's a really good sign - Corey (hitting) two home runs, and two home runs the other way. A little bit of excitement there.''
The other highlight was seeing Sucre on the mound to pitch the eighth — although it was somewhat odd that he was there with the Rays down only five at the time — as he allowed three runs on two hits and two walks, while hitting 85 mph on the gun in his third big-league pitching appearance.
"I think I did all right,'' Sucre said. "I don't want to try and do too much throwing it too hard.''
The ugly nights will happen — though the 14 runs allowed were a season high — but for a team that fancies itself as a playoff contender, losing nine of their past 12 games is significantly problematic.
With the loss, the Rays dropped to 54-53, 4½ games behind the AL East-leading Yankees, who added Sonny Gray to their rotation, and stayed 2½ behind the second wild card-holding Royals.
Rightfielder Steven Souza Jr., hobbling around on a sore left foot after fouling a ball off it, said they remain optimistic about their chances.
"We've played our worse baseball over the last two weeks we can,'' he said. "I know it sounds like a broken record but a lot of those games could've easily turned over and we'd be in a really good spot in the division. But they're not because we didn't; do the little things right and close out ballgames.
"And because of that reason that we could've won those ballgames, I don't think we're discouraged and we feel like we can still put it together.''
Cobb has pitched very well for the Rays much of the season, but when he has been bad he has been horrid.
That was pretty much it Monday. Cobb got through the first okay but was in trouble quickly the next frame, as the second and third batters laced balls off Minute Maid Park's cozy leftfield wall for doubles and Jose Altuve delivered a two-run single to make it 3-0.
The third was worse, most of the damage coming with two outs as Cobb allowed four straight hits, including two home runs, and five runs total.
Lucas Duda homered in the ninth, his third homer in four games for the Rays.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.