CINCINNATI — What had been a bad situation for the Rays with the injury to Matt Moore became worse Sunday with news that Alex Cobb has a strained oblique and will miss at least four to six weeks.
That leaves the Rays missing two of their top starting pitchers for potentially extended times. And Cesar Ramos' performance as the first replacement in the rotation didn't do anything to assuage the overall concern as he barely made it to the third inning in an ugly 12-4 loss to the Reds.
"It's not good," infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist said. "Our pitching is what makes us good and what we're known for. We're going to have to have some guys step up during this time, and hopefully we can get what we need."
Ramos didn't have it Sunday, and manager Joe Maddon didn't show much tolerance, pulling him two batters into the third inning after a massive Joey Votto homer put the Reds up 4-2, saying he didn't like how things were trending.
Maddon wouldn't commit to giving Ramos another start — "I can't say yes or no yet" — but did say they would put veteran Erik Bedard (who threw two innings Sunday) into the rotation, pitching Thursday at home against the Yankees. (A potential rainout Tuesday in Baltimore could alter that schedule.)
Alternatives to Ramos, who had been the Rays' long reliever, would include promoting minor-league prospects such as Nathan Karns (who has made three big-league starts, for Washington), Enny Romero (one) or Mike Montgomery (none).
"When you lose pitchers of Moore's caliber, or Cobb, obviously that's really difficult to replace," Maddon said. "It's kind of an awkward thought. It's testing our depth. And I believe the guys we have are ready for the challenge."
Staff ace David Price was similarly optimistic, noting that he, Cobb and Moore were sidelined for extended periods last season.
"It's nothing we haven't gone through before," Price said. "We take pride in having a deep pitching staff. If that means having guys from Durham coming up and helping us out, so be it. That's a part of baseball. It's an extremely long year — there's going to be quite a few other clubs that go through the same stuff we're going through. It just so happens that it's in the first couple weeks, so that kind of stinks. But it's better now than in September."
The Rays had confidence in Ramos going into the game. But after a 1-2-3 first inning, he walked three consecutive batters with one out in the second, though the damage was limited to two runs thanks to two breaks: Zack Cozart's bases-loaded double bounced over the wall, and pitcher Tony Cingrani's baserunning blunder led to a double play — with catcher Ryan Hanigan making both putouts.
The Rays got two runs back on the first of Zobrist's two two-run homers — from different sides of the plate, the first time for him at any level — and Maddon had already decided that two batters into the third would be enough for Ramos, but he allowed a single and the homer. A three-run homer by Devin Mesoraco, on an 0-and-2 pitch by Brandon Gomes, made it 7-2 later in the third, and reliever Josh Lueke, the sixth Rays pitcher, added to the carnage by allowing a pinch-hit grand slam to Chris Heisey in the eighth.
"I wish things had been different, that I would have pitched better," Ramos said. "You always want to go out there and step in and give us a chance to win. I kind of didn't do a very good job of that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.