Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Latest quality start lifts Rays over Yankees (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Drew Smyly's cutter arrived in Oakland when he faced the A's during his previous start. His curveball finally arrived Saturday when he pitched against the Yankees.

The results were a pair of quality starts in which Smyly turned leads over to the bullpen.

It's as simple as that.

Smyly's struggles since mid May could be traced to his inability to throw an offspeed pitch that would keep hitters off what he called his less than overpowering fastball. But with a cutter or his breaking pitch, Smyly is able to pitch like he has during his past two starts, with the latest being a six-inning, two-run affair Saturday in the Rays' 6-3 win against the Yankees in front of 25,883 at Tropicana Field.

"Getting back to the way I'm used to pitching and the way I can pitch," Smyly said.

Smyly snapped an 11-game winless stretch in which he was 0-7, tying James Shields (2010) for the longest in-season losing streak in team history.

It also extended the Rays' streak of quality starts to 10, their longest such streak since 2014.

"It's fun playing behind them and watching them throw strikes and challenge guys and make the plays for them," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "It's definitely the main component of our team. When they go, we go."

The inability of the starters to live up to their preseason hype was the overriding story for the Rays during the first 92 games. But this current run shows what the rotation is capable of.

If they remain together after Monday's nonwaiver trade deadline is one story. Had they pitched like this or close to this during the first half, it likely would have altered whatever plans Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman and his staff are currently studying.

"This team goes off starting pitching, and we've all been pitching really well since we came back off the (All Star) break," Smyly said. "We feed off each other. When we're all doing it on consecutive nights, it helps the team."

The Rays (41-61) have won three straight and seven of their past 12.

The offense has been able to come up with the big hits. Saturday, it was home runs by Brad Miller, Curt Casali and Tim Beckham.

The defense has been solid. Saturday, it was Kiermaier making a running, leaping catch at the centerfield wall to rob Austin Romine of extra bases in the eighth inning after the Yankees closed within 6-3 on a homer by Chase Headley.

But the starting pitching has been the backbone of this run. The starters are pitching at least six innings, which limits the workload on the bullpen.

"It's very gratifying when you know you pitched a good game and you contributed to a team win like we did" Saturday, Smyly said. "That's the feeling we all look for when we get the ball. Turn it over to the bullpen, hopefully with the lead, and good things will happen after that."

   
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