ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays can push back Roberto Hernandez's starts when possible and skip him when the schedule allows. But until Matt Moore's left elbow feels better, they seem likely to keep sending Hernandez to the mound.
And that just isn't working out too well.
On Saturday he matched the major-league high with his 13th loss, putting the Rays behind early to kill any momentum from their thrilling walkoff win the night before, leading to a 6-2 defeat to the Blue Jays. The loss dropped them to 69-52 and back to two games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox.
"I can't control the losing," Hernandez said. "I want to win. Everybody knows that. But I can't control that."
You can mention that he hasn't received much run support. That the ground balls he's getting somehow are finding holes. That the occasional mistake has led to significant damage. That he has thrown the ball better than the results reflect.
Manager Joe Maddon did, running through all the above in defense of the weak link in the Rays rotation.
And also this tepid assessment:
"It wasn't awful."
Hernandez gave up a run in the first, on a badly aimed slider that Jose Bautista deposited in the leftfield seats, and two more in a messy third, then another homer to Adam Lind in the sixth, making it the seventh straight game in which the Rays have allowed the other team to score first.
"It's never easy to get down early," outfielder Sam Fuld said. "Getting down 3-0, there's only so many times you can come back. You prefer to get ahead. We always talk about scoring first, we'd like to do a better job of that."
And with Toronto starter J.A. Happ sharp in his return to Tropicana Field, where he was struck in the head by a line drive during his previous outing May 7, there wasn't much they could do about it, despite some dazzling defense from third baseman Evan Longoria and a lively concert-induced Tropicana Field crowd of 25,036.
"That was a big part of our problem tonight, how well he pitched," said Maddon, who also congratulated Happ on his successful return.
Maddon has some valid points in his defense of Hernandez. The Rays have scored only 17 runs when he has been in the game in his 13 losses, and his overall run support (2.22) is the worst of the starters. He did get 12 ground-ball outs Saturday, though Brett Lawrie's single through the infield scored a run.
But Hernandez has a 5.00 ERA, highest of any American Leaguer who has worked at least 130 innings. The Rays are 9-14 in his starts, 60-38 in everyone else's. He has allowed a team-high 22 home runs.
"I know it's easy to harp on him because of his record, but he's a contact pitcher, and we've got to be in the right spots," Maddon said.
Also, "I know it doesn't look good line-wise, but he did not throw the ball that badly."
And, "You look at the won-loss record and it looks awful, but a little bit more run support and I'm certain that record would read better."
The Rays have an off day Thursday, so they might be able to skip Hernandez's next turn. Moore could be back by the end of the month.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]mpabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.