ST. PETERSBURG — If the Rays are going to be all right, they're going to have to do better against left-handers.
Tuesday, Oakland's Dallas Braden was the latest lefty to beat them, as they fell 8-1 to an A's team that had lost six straight, and looked bad in doing so.
They're 16-15 against left-handed starters, compared to 42-26 against right-handers; they're hitting nearly 20 points lower against lefties overall, .247 vs. .264; and they're going to see more lefties as long as they continue to struggle.
Manager Joe Maddon said he is confident they have the hitters in the clubhouse to correct the imbalance. Executive vice president Andrew Friedman — who met with Maddon for nearly 45 minutes after the game, though supposedly about the pending activation of shortstop Jason Bartlett — will have to decide soon, with the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline looming, if they need outside help.
"We talk about stuff all the time," Maddon said afterward. "And we've talked about that for a long time. We've talked about a whole bunch of things. And we're always trying to make it better. Those are part of our normal daily conversations. And we'll see."
The Rays' (58-41) optimal lineup is predominantly left-handed, and it's typical for left-handed hitters, even everyday players such as Akinori Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, to not do as well against lefties. (Plus, they usually sit Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske against lefties.)
But more concerning is that some of their top right-handers, such as B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, also have struggled. Plus, Jonny Gomes — whose primary job is to hit lefties — hasn't done much yet, with a .205 average. And it's yet another reason why they miss Bartlett, who has a .324 average against lefties.
"The solution is that we just have to hit better against them," Maddon said. "The group that we have, we have plenty of right-handed hitters out there. We just have to do a better job with it. The lefties in the past, Carlos has done some good work against them, so has Carl and so has Aki actually. So we've just got to stay with it, hang with it, and we're going to get better at it. I'm certain of that."
Maddon pointed out that when they beat Oakland lefty Dana Eveland on Monday "everyone was happy" so it wasn't appropriate to be that unhappy on Tuesday, even though Braden made his first start of the season. But they've faced lefties in seven of their past 11 games and lost six.
"It's been a problem," said Gomes, one of a few position players who addressed the media. "But it's a long season. … It's one of those things we have to battle.''
With the lack of offense (including another 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position), starter Andy Sonnanstine's couple of mistakes were magnified: two singles on 0-2 counts then a three-run full-count homer by Jack Hannahan — his first since May 23 (thus a .337 slugging percentage that was third lowest in the AL) and the A's first since July 13.
Add in ineffective relief work and more sloppy defense (two errors by Ben Zobrist), and the Rays' lead over the Red Sox shrank to a half-game.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.