NEW YORK — Even as the glaringly weak numbers were being posted on a nightly basis, Rays officials — from principal owner Stuart Sternberg on down — remained resolute that the offense they invested money, players and time in was indeed going to be improved.
"I have seen enough with the hitters I feel good about it, I really do," Sternberg said before Sunday's game at Yankee Stadium. "I know it hasn't been clean for all the starts for all the guys, but I feel like they're finding their way now."
And over the next couple of hours, the Rays showed him, and the rest of us, hitting five home runs — including two by birthday boy Steven Souza Jr. — in an 8-1 win over the Yankees to put a good finish on a 3-3 road trip, heading home 8-10 overall.
The Rays want you to believe that their initial impotence — scoring three or fewer runs in 13 of their first 17 games (and averaging only 3.35), ranking at or near the bottom of the majors in many offensive categories — was as much or more a product of the elite quality of pitching they were facing.
And that once they could get into a groove — as well as into the back end of some rotations against some lesser arms — they would be more productive.
"We got off to a slow start," Souza said. "We faced some tough pitchers early on, some real good ones. This last week and a half or so, guys are starting to find their groove, and more guys are going to fall in behind that and find their groove. That's what you're seeing."
On Thursday in Boston, the Rays scored 12 in a game started by Red Sox ace David Price. On Sunday, they scored five in the first inning off a fierce-looking Michael Pineda and eight overall.
"I think we've got a lot of thump," Souza said.
Corey Dickerson and Souza went deep in the first against Pineda during a stretch of six straight hits that started with two outs and two strikes on Evan Longoria. They added on with additional homers by Steve Pearce, Souza again (and to rightfield) and Logan Forsythe.
"We have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, we would think maybe more than we did last year (167, eighth in the AL)," manager Kevin Cash said. "It's nice to see guys doing that."
Even with the five home runs, there was a big "Yeah, but … " as the Rays also struck out 16 times.
There actually never had been a team in major-league history before Sunday to do that in a nine-inning game, hitting at least five homers and fanning 15 or more times.
Cash, no surprise, said he'll take it: "I don't know if that's a tradeoff, but I'll trade off — if it's an 8-1 win, they can punch out as many times as they want."
If it is too early to say the offense isn't going to be better, as the Rays suggest, then the glimpse of power the past couple of days is similarly too small a sample size to feel better about.
There has to be some growing level of concern that the offseason checklist was flawed, with the rough starts by new first baseman Logan Morrison — now a staggering 4-for-50 with 22 strikeouts and finally headed, you'd think, down in the lineup — and shortstop Brad Miller, hitting .115, plus the offensive and defensive shortcomings of catcher Hank Conger.
But Dickerson, whose five homers match Souza for the team lead, and Pearce have been solid additions. And another part of their improvement plan was to get more from the returnees, such as Desmond Jennings being healthy and Souza being more productive by being more comfortable in his second full season.
On Sunday, in his first game as a 27-year-old — happy to play on his birthday after sitting out last year and, in 2014, heading back to the minors after a day-before demotion by Washington — he looked exactly that.
And the Rays overall looked better for it.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.