Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Lueke falters as Rays drop Odorizzi's debut, 7-5

TORONTO — Managing for the future cost the Rays a game in the present Monday.

The start by Jake Odorizzi, the 23-year-old called up to take injured David Price's spot in the rotation, wasn't the problem, as he settled down to work five decent innings.

It was after that, when manager Joe Maddon put the game in the hands of another inexperienced pitcher recently brought up from Triple-A Durham, and Josh Lueke couldn't handle it.

The result was a 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays that ended the momentum the Rays (23-21) gathered from the sweep in Baltimore, and also featured some controversy in Yunel Escobar's return to Toronto and another bad call by the umpires.

But most telling was that it showed a glimpse of Maddon's thinking, with some of his other relievers struggling and a concern about over-using Joel Peralta, in giving Lueke an opportunity in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game.

"He had been doing so well," Maddon said. "He gets through that inning, he's walking like King Kong coming off that mound. It didn't work out that way. But you have to understand, you cannot kill your bullpen this early in the season. Everyone has to contribute."

Lueke, who had allowed only one hit in his first four appearances, wasn't up to it.

"Basically, I didn't show up with my 'A game' and bring my best stuff to go out there to compete," Lueke said.

Facing the bottom third of the order, Lueke walked the bases loaded, putting on the Nos. 7 and, after a bunt, 9 hitters then, after a hard liner to left, Jose Bautista to load the bases. (He'd walked only four unintentionally in 19 innings at Durham.) Then he gave up a three-run smash into the leftfield corner by Edwin Encarnacion, making it 6-3.

Maddon, who had already used Jake McGee in the sixth, could have made a move once Lueke had two on with the top of the order coming up, either to Peralta ("This is not kill Joel Peralta year," he said), Kyle Farnsworth (who once had that role but has been struggling) or Jamey Wright (also struggling).

But he said he had already decided "those were (Lueke's) outs to get."

"For us to be really successful, other guys in the bullpen have to do what they're supposed to do," he said. "So Lueke's been doing great. I'm looking at that particular moment as a wonderful growth moment for him."

Lueke, 28, said he had some trouble getting used to the Rogers Centre mound, then didn't have command of his pitches.

"It just snowballed," he said. "I guess you can say it was a mental/physical letdown for myself and obviously everybody, because everybody's been pulling for me, and put me in that situation. I was so excited to get in there, I kind of got ahead of myself."

Odorizzi had some similar issues, a bit too excited in what turned into a difficult 29-pitch first inning, including a 12-pitch at-bat with Adam Lind, that led to two Toronto runs.

He gave up another in the third — thanks in part to what on replays looked like a badly blown call by C.B. Bucknor, saying Henry Blanco was safe even though Ben Zobrist had tagged him — then settled down, retiring 10 of his last 11.

Maddon said he was pleased overall, impressed with Odorizzi's curveball and some additional velocity — up to 93 mph — on his fastball, and didn't want to push Odorizzi past the 92 pitches.

Odorizzi, who had the experience of two September starts for the Royals, who traded him this offseason, said overall it went okay.

"I take the positives out of it," he said. "Besides that first inning I thought everything was pretty good. Could have been better in certain situations. It was all right, but there's room for improvement, that's for sure."

It was that kind of day.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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