KANSAS CITY — The losing to the Royals part the Rays have down, Tuesday's 10-5 defeat the 14th time in their past 15 games in Kauffman Stadium they left frustrated.
It's just that this one was particularly ugly and somewhat painful.
All-Star closer Brad Boxberger, making his first appearance following his rehab from March 17 core muscle repair surgery, left the game after 16 pitches in the sixth inning with a muscle strain on the same left side and seems headed back to the disabled list.
"Obviously not good," manager Kevin Cash said. "Another unfortunate injury that we will overcome."
That injury came two innings after top hitter and fill-in second baseman Steve Pearce, who has been battling a flareup in seasonlong right elbow tendinitis, left early for the second straight night, though he said there was no further aggravation of his condition.
The game action was pretty bad, too, as the Rays allowed a season-high 18 hits and a season-most-matching 10 runs, the bulk of it by starter Drew Smyly. It was the Rays' ninth loss in their past 11 games and dropped them to 22-28, and further into last place in the AL East.
Boxberger, who warmed up but wasn't used Monday, came on for a "soft-landing" season debut in the sixth. He got two outs on five pitches and was ahead of Eric Hosmer 0-and-2 when he allowed a single, then a two-run homer to Kendrys Morales.
He started stretching his side then on the mound, and felt something grab as hit Paulo Orlando with a 1-and-2 pitch. He then threw three straight balls to Jarrod Dyson, with Cash and athletic trainer Joe Benge headed to the mound about the same time catcher Curt Casali was waving them out.
"Everything up until this point felt great,'' Boxberger said. "I felt great in the pen, I felt great the first couple batters. Then something just happened, I don't even know what. …
"It just got worse and I knew it wasn't anything that was going to get better.''
Boxberger reported to spring camp healthy but felt discomfort in his left hamstring and ended up having surgery to repair a tear in the adductor brevis muscle near his groin. He made six rehab appearances in the minors and was activated Monday, with the expectation he would reclaim the closer's role after leading the AL with 41 saves last year, and make the bullpen deeper with fill-in Alex Colome moving into a setup role.
Boxberger will be further evaluated today before the Rays make any roster decisions.
"It (stinks) to have this setback now," Boxberger said. "It is frustrating battling back from the surgery, and then first time out."
Pearce aggravated the elbow Monday on a check swing, which was a new symptom, and seemed to further tweak it Tuesday diving for a grounder in the fourth.
But Cash said, and Pearce concurred, that there was no worsening of the condition, just a matter of making a smart decision with the Rays down 8-3 at the time.
"Obviously we knew he was still sore,'' Cash said. "He tried to grind through it and play. It just made the most sense for me to get him out and see if we can let his elbow calm down a little bit.''
Pearce said: "I'm still available (to play), just sore. They told me it was a good time to get me out of the game, that they want to try to get me right.''
The Rays had been tepidly excited about the improvement from their starting pitchers, with a four-pack of solid performances by Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Andriese.
But Smyly brought an abrupt end to that happy talk with a rough outing Tuesday, allowing a career-high 12 hits and eight runs while lasting just four innings.
After Smyly allowed a two-run homer to Lorenzo Cain in the first, the Rays came back to take a 3-2 lead in the second on two singles and a home run by Corey Dickerson, his ninth to match Steven Souza Jr. for the team lead.
But that didn't last long, as the relentless Royals — playing without injured starters Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, then Tuesday losing one of the replacements, Brett Eibner — battled back.
They tied it in the third, even as the Rays worked around Cain with a man on second, as Hosmer delivered the RBI single.
Then Kansas City broke it open with five runs in the fourth. The first was particularly maddening, as with runners on first and third, the Royals perfectly executed the safety squeeze bunt play the Rays used to favor under previous manager Joe Maddon. After a sac bunt and a comebacker gave him a chance to escape further damage, Smyly blew up, allowing a two-run single to the unstoppable Cain, then a groundball double to Hosmer that scored a run and an RBI single to Morales that made it 8-3 and pretty much over.
Smyly made note that only Eibner's leadoff double was hit hard.
"They barely got another ball out of the infield and I gave up five runs,'' he said. "I made a lot of good pitches, and they kept fisting them for singles.
"It just didn't go my way.''
That was far from the only thing.