Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Analysis: Rays absorb lessons from beating in Kansas City (w/ video)

PHOENIX — The Rays were bouncing out of the clubhouse after Wednesday's 6-3 win over the Diamondbacks, happy to finally be heading home for an extended stay and boasting of the resiliency they showed after losing the first four yet breaking even for the 10-game trip.

Corey Dickerson launched two homers, reinvigorated Desmond Jennings hit another and three two-out RBI singles provided enough offense to offset a mediocre start by Jake Odorizzi and an adventurous ninth by Alex Colome.

"Awesome win," manager Kevin Cash said. "Way to finish off a nice road trip, the way it started."

But, actually, it was the way it started, with the three brutal losses in Kansas City and the residual frustration, that was the primary reason for the improved play.

And perhaps the biggest ray of hope is that by continuing to do so, they can salvage something from a season still subpar at 27-31.

"The guys have kind of rallied around each other," Cash said. "You see the at-bats we're having right now. We're grinding through some at-bats. It's been really fun to watch."

In short, after watching the relentless approach of the Royals hitters, specifically the way they would battle through at-bats to put the ball in play and put pressure on the defense, the Rays realized there was a better way than what had been mostly an all-or-nothing method to their offense.

"Having it down when you're on the field and watching that, there were plenty of times where you were like, 'My gosh, they just kept putting the ball in play,' " Cash said. "And then we got to Minnesota, and that's the approach we had. And did."

The shift wasn't a coincidence.

Cash made a somewhat rare public criticism, saying the team had to find a way to stop striking out so much in run-scoring situations and put the ball in play.

Then in the hitters' meeting before the first game in Minnesota, hitting coach Derek Shelton and assistant Jamie Nelson stressed the importance of making the most of at-bats in those moments.

"We have some guys that are going to strike out," Shelton said. "But it's just more making sure it's a concentrated effort to pay attention to the quality of our at-bats in those situations. … And especially because we have some younger guys, I think it's an important message."

And one they seem to have gotten.

In the seven games since leaving Kansas City, the Rays have hit .340 with runners in scoring position and struck out once every 5.2 at-bats. In the first 51 games, they hit .230 and struck out once every 3.16.

Brad Miller had a gritty at-bat in the ninth Sunday at Minnesota. Taylor Motter had one Monday. Evan Longoria, Steve Pearce and Steven Souza Jr. had two-out RBI singles Wednesday.

"There's been kind of that grinder mentality in the last five, six games after we left Kansas City," Longoria said. "I guess sometimes you need to see it firsthand to be reminded of what it looks like."

As bad as the games were in Kansas City, there were other issues that cast a pall over the beginning of the trip.

Closer Brad Boxberger's much-anticipated return was aborted in less than one inning by an oblique strain, then starting outfielder Brandon Guyer was lost to a hamstring issue.

Plus, there were some snippy postgame comments from players, some strong criticism from TV analyst Brian Anderson in a radio interview about a lack of leadership and Jennings' lackadaisical play and a sense of some disharmony in multiple directions as their losing streak extended to five straight and 11 of 13.

Winning five of their past six against Twins and Diamondbacks teams that are among the worst six in baseball doesn't necessarily mean the Rays have things figured out.

But you could tell from the smiles on their faces Wednesday afternoon that they felt they had showed something.

"Resiliency," Pearce said. "We were scuffling. Facing adversity. And we came together."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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