Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays, Balfour bounce back, blank Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Grant Balfour began preparing early Friday afternoon for redemption.

He sat in the clubhouse reviewing video and discovered two mechanical flaws he was able to correct, then, more importantly, adjusted his attitude, reinstalling the proper mindset and conviction to return to a more aggressive approach. A 10-minute chat during batting practice with Rays manager Joe Maddon provided some valuable reassurance.

All Balfour needed from there was an opportunity, and it came in remarkably, almost eerily, similar circumstances to the situation he failed in Thursday, the Rays leading by three in the ninth inning with the bottom of the Angels order up.

And this time Balfour responded aggressively, assertively and successfully, retiring the Angels in order to preserve a much-needed 3-0 victory.

"That,'' Balfour said, "is what I want to be.''

The Rays (19-24) were in position to win because of a better-but-not-great start by Chris Archer, who didn't get though the sixth inning but won for the first time in nearly a month, and an opportunistic offense, with a homer from Yunel Escobar and RBI singles from James Loney and Evan Longoria. Plus, relievers Juan Carlos Oviedo, Jake McGee and Joel Peralta combined for seven outs.

But it was getting Balfour back on the mound, and then back on his game, that made the night a true success.

"Loved it,'' Maddon said. "So loved it. He came in, and that's what Grant looks like. Really, a live fastball. He got the (two) pop-ups and got the punchout. That's who he is.''

Balfour was unhappy when Maddon pulled him after he allowed the first three Angels to reach in the ninth Thursday, cutting the margin to 5-3, and setting the stage for a bad ending as Brad Boxberger gave up a three-run walkoff homer to Mike Trout.

But Balfour used that to his advantage Friday, deciding to not beat himself up too much since he was yanked from the game without the chance to wriggle out of trouble, and instead being open to improvement.

He wouldn't say what the mechanical adjustments were, but they "got me where I needed to be and allowed me to hit my spots and put the ball where I wanted to put it.''

From there, it was a matter of readopting the aggressive approach, getting away from using his breaking ball to avoid contact (and pile up walks) and getting back to using his fastball to attack and challenge hitters.

"The mindset behind it and the conviction behind it makes all the difference,'' he said.

Maddon reinforced those ideas during a chat in rightfield before the game.

"I spoke Australian and he spoke English and we got after it a little bit,'' Maddon said. "Not in a negative way. We talked. I just tried to re-emphasize to him that's not how you pitch, so let's get back to how you pitch. I much prefer that you get hit and lose and whatever than walk and lose and whatever.

"So we talked about being more aggressive in the zone. He was very accountable throughout the whole thing.''

And even at 36, with 18 seasons in pro ball and parts of 11 in the majors, Balfour said it's nice to get a pep talk from your boss, certainly more so the day after he didn't exactly show confidence in you.

"It's nice to be reassured by the manager, don't get me wrong,'' he said. "To know he's behind you 100 percent is a good feeling, no doubt at all. So for him to come out there and say this is where you need to be, yeah, I know that's where I should be, but to hear it from someone else is good.''

Archer got some help, too, a tip from mentor David Price during his usual light day-before throwing session that he said helped smooth out his delivery and led to his first win since April 19, following a steak of four starts in which he had an ugly 6.97 ERA.

He was better Friday, allowing only two singles and no runs, but – and it's a but that matters - he walked five and pitched himself out of the game after 5 2/3 innings by exceeding 100 pitches, the fourth consecutive start he didn't get through six.

"Overall the outcome was okay,'' he said. "I had the type of stuff to go much deeper in the ballgame and I wanted to do that, but walking away with a victory for the team, and shutting out a good lineup, I'm got gonna sit here and complain about it. But I know there is still room for growth.''

The most blatant reminder came in the fifth inning, just after Escobar's homer off Jered Weaver gave the Rays a 1-0 lead. Archer got two quick outs, but then – in what he described as "a slight blip" – he walked No. 9 hitter John McDonald, then walked Erick Aybar, and then walked Trout to load the bases and bring ever-dangerous Albert Pujols to the plate.

That Archer got Pujols to roll over on a slider and bounce out to third kept it from escalating into a real problem, as happened earlier this season in Boston, but – even in showing an improved tempo and better overall command – it was still a concern.

"He ran into that one little moment again where he walked several guys in a row,'' Maddon said, "But nevertheless got through it against a pretty good hitter, which was nice to see.''

Escobar homered for the third time this season, then the Rays added a run in the seventh when Longoria singled and went to second on what was supposed to be something else but ended up his first steal since July and scored on Loney' s single. Then in the eighth, Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers walked and Longoria delivered an RBI single.

After posting their fifth shutout of the season, and winning their 16th game of the last 21 in Anaheim, the Rays had some personnel issues. to address.

* Jennings was placed on the bereavement list following a death in the family he declined to disclose, and will rejoin the team on Tuesday. Kevin Kiermaier was called up from Triple-A Durham to take his place.

* Catcher Ryan Hanigan left the game after 7 ½ innings with what he said was either cramping or a mild strain of his right hamstring but was hopeful he would feel better today and not miss much time.

"We did some treatment and checked it out and I don't think anything is blown out,'' he said. "I just think it's a little cramp, maybe a mild strain but I think I'll be okay.''

Jose Molina will catch Saturday and already was going to be behind the plate Sunday, with infielder Sean Rodriguez and outfielder Wil Myers serving as emergency replacements.

* Also, infielder Cole Figueroa made his major-league debut in the eighth, popping out as a pinch-hitter then playing second the final two innings.

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

 
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