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Rays' Grant Balfour struggles again in clutch spot

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Grant Balfour (50) after a two-run single by Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Steve Tolleson (18) in the ninth inning of the MLB game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 11, 2014.

WILL VRAGOVIC | TIMES

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Grant Balfour (50) after a two-run single by Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Steve Tolleson (18) in the ninth inning of the MLB game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 11, 2014.

CHICAGO — As much as Joe Maddon talks about every game in Aug-tember being so vital, he was managing for a bigger goal than one win in the seventh inning Sunday, and it cost the Rays.

He brought in struggling RHP Grant Balfour to try to protect a one-run lead against the bottom of the Cubs order in the seventh. And, after Balfour allowed a two-out double, Maddon stuck with him against leadoff man Chris Coghlan, the East Lake High product.

"For us to do this, for Grant to walk off the field right there having gotten the third out would have done us a whole lot of good in the long term," Maddon said. "And I thought he could do it."

But Balfour couldn't, allowing a tying triple, and instead walked up the ramps and stairs to the clubhouse in even worse shape, his mechanics a mess, his confidence further tattered. After signing a two-year, $12 million deal to be the closer, Balfour has been hard to trust in any tight situations.

"It's been an up-and-down year for me," Balfour said. "I'm in the groove for a little bit there, and for some reason I'll go out of it and go back into these habits of flying open and not allowing my body and my arm to do what I want to do and make the pitches that over the past four, five, six years I can just see myself making that pitch time and time again. … I just haven't been doing that. I'm going to have to get back. There's a couple things (to work on). …

"It's been a couple frustrating games for me. I need to get out there and throw up a zero and get that confidence back out there."

NO JAKIN': LHP Jake McGee, the Rays' most consistent reliever, was unavailable Sunday and is questionable for tonight after being hit on the right leg by a ball in Saturday's game.

SMYLY GUY: LHP Drew Smyly makes his second start for the Rays tonight, saying he doesn't see why his preference for having the catcher use hand signals, touching different spots on his body rather than the usual finger indicators to call pitches, is a big deal.

He does it because he has trouble seeing in some ballparks, but he said sometimes he just prefers it that way and in Detroit would switch even during games. "I mix it up," he said. "It's just kind of what I like to do. I don't see why you guys (reporters) are talking about it. It's how I get my signs. … Everyone has different signs."

Maddon also said it was not a big issue, and he would leave it up to Smyly, pitching coach Jim Hickey and C Jose Molina, who will be behind the plate tonight.

GOING LONGO: Maddon moved struggling 3B Evan Longoria up to the No. 3 spot in the lineup Sunday "just to rattle his batting order cage a little bit, see if it, whatever, helps him a little bit mentally, gets him unloosened a bit." Longoria, though, went 0-for-5 and is 4-for-26 on the road trip.

FAN CLUB: Saturday was the second time in three weeks Rays pitchers combined to strike out at least 15 with no walks in posting a shutout. That's the fourth time it has been done this season (also the Dodgers and Marlins) but only the 19th time in the majors over the past 100 years. … Sunday, they had 17 strikeouts and one walk, which made it 44 and two for the series.

REHAB REPORT: INF Tim Beckham (right knee surgery) completed his rehab assignment Saturday and was activated off the 60-day DL on Sunday and optioned to Triple-A Durham. … OF Wil Myers (right wrist) went 1-for-3, with a single and two strikeouts, in the first game of his rehab assignment with Durham as the DH in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader. He may play again today.

MISCELLANY: The Rays finished interleague play 10-10. … Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer, in a Rays shirt, was on the field visiting pregame with Maddon.

Rays' Grant Balfour struggles again in clutch spot 08/10/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 10, 2014 10:09pm]
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