Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays have their chances, but end up with another loss (w/video)

TORONTO — The litany of games the Rays have given away this season is long enough, arguably too lengthy. So the only way to get to the postseason is make up for some of those losses by grabbing some wins when the opportunity is presented, especially at this time of year when the margin is diminished and the stakes are clear.

And if they end up falling short, Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays will be glaringly among those wasted chances.

Even after a good-but-not great start by rookie Jake Faria and some costly sloppy outfield defense, the Rays still found themselves with a prime opportunity in the seventh down by two, bases loaded with one out, Jays ace starter Marcus Stroman out of the game and the key guys in their lineup coming up.

"We had it where we wanted it," manager Kevin Cash said.

But they sure didn't get what they wanted. Instead of coming through with the kind of big hits that playoff-bound teams do, they came up short. Again. The loss dropped them to 60-62, making their path to a wild-card more challenging with every day that passes, now 2 1/2 games and four teams out.

The opportunity came, somewhat unexpectedly, as Stroman seemed to quickly lose it. Down 0-and-1, Mallex Smith took four straight balls for a one-out walk. No. 9 hitter Jesus Sucre slapped the first pitch for a single, sending Smith to third. Brad Miller, elevated to the leadoff spot in a lineup shuffle, drew a walk to load the bases.

When Jays manager John Gibbons summoned lefty Aaron Loup to face Lucas Duda, Cash had the right counter-move, sending up Steven Souza Jr. to pinch hit.

And Souza, given an unexpected day off, delivered an impressively patient at-bat, falling behind 1-and-2, then taking three straight balls to force in a run and make it 3-2.

(Gibbons showed enough disgust with home plate ump Lance Barksdale's call to get ejected on his way to the mound, and made the next pitching change anyway before resuming the discussion.)

If anything, the Rays were feeling better then with their Nos. 3-4 hitters, Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison, facing Dominic Leone.

"Definitely like our chances with the bases loaded, Longo and myself up," Morrison said. "Didn't happen tonight. It's just one of those things. Got to get through it."

Longoria got behind 1-and-2, fouled off a couple pitches to stay alive then took a called third strike that he uncharacteristically reacted to in disbelief and frustration, a rare show of on-field emotion.

"The thing with Longo is you just don't see him react like that," Cash said. "I'm sure there is frustration in there. I'm sure it was potentially one of those borderline pitches. But he surprising thing was the way that Longo reacted."

Then Morrison completed the wasted chance by popping out.

There was some charity in the Rays getting behind.

"When we're not hitting we've got to play pretty clean baseball and I don't feel like we did that tonight," Cash said.

The Jays got their last run when leftfielder Corey Dickerson lost a liner in the lights to open the sixth, something Cash said "is going to happen." But he wasn't as forgiving for Smith allowing a ball to bounce over his head in right-center, giving the Jays their first run in the third.

"At some point we've got to make some adjustments," he said. "That can't affect us. Turf should be never tricky for us.. We live on the turf. We know the ball bounces."

Smith didn't have much of an answer:

"What can you do? Just got to play it better. Got to know your turf. Just a bouncy turf.''

The night after the Rays scored six runs to seemingly to break out of their historically fallow offensive slump, Cash made several changes to the lineup, the most significant dropping the struggling Dickerson from the leadoff spot to sixth, and replacing him, on Wednesday anyway, with Miller, he of the high walk rate but sub-.200 batting average overall.

"Maybe just a change of scenery for both the guys that got flip-flopped will do some good," Cash said. "I like the way that Brad has gotten on base. That helps. And Corey, to be able to drop him down, give him in a blow in some of those big pressure situations, might help get him going also."

The other moves were rest days for steadily consistent Souza (given 19 straight games on turf), suddenly hot-hitting catcher Wilson Ramos (to keep him from getting worn down) and slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (to get rookie Daniel Robertson a third straight game), though all three ended up playing before the night was out.

Though Cash sold the Miller move as being based on his ability to get on base, he admitted it could be a one-night stand, mentioning Souza and even cleanup-hitting Morrison as other options. Miller went 1-for-4 with a walk.

But Cash is planning on keeping Dickerson in the bottom half of the order for a while.

"Giving him some time to get some stuff in order,'' Cash said. "I know him and (hitting coach) Chad (Mottola) have been working at it pretty good and did some work (Wednesday). Looking for that to kind of carry over similar to how Wilson's carried over.''

Dickerson said he was surprised but not upset by the move, taking the "it is what it is" approach, though he did note that much of his early season production did come from the top spot.

"I know I'm not a true leadoff hitter and I would like to be able to have the opportunity to drive in more runs,'' he said. "(But) I know I had success in the early part of the year at that.''

Dickerson said the move down will change how he approaches at-bats, since the pitcher will be deeper into his night, and the game situations will be different at least in his first time up. For what it's worth, he did go 2-for-4. though with some help from the official scorer.

But he also said the key to correcting his decline will come from within as he battles through the physical and mental fatigue of August, not where he is slotted in the order.

"It's about trying to be more relaxed, that's the easiest word I could use to say it,'' Dickerson said. "Play more with a purpose, with freedom. Because I have such high expectations I immediately want to change. I want to fix it today. In these four at-bats. And if they don't go my way, it can snowball. So it's just to slow down, relax, play the game, not put any more pressure on myself. I think the best days are to come for sure.''

 

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