Rays have one of best offensive games this season

Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney (21) hits a two run single in the eighth inning of the Houston Astros at the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, June 21, 2014. The Rays beat the Astros 8-0.

WILL VRAGOVIC | TIMES

Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney (21) hits a two run single in the eighth inning of the Houston Astros at the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, June 21, 2014. The Rays beat the Astros 8-0.

ST. PETERSBURG — After losing eight of their past 10 games against pitchers making their major-league debuts, the Rays' offense finally made a rookie pay in his first start.

The Rays lit up Houston RHP Jake Buchanan in his first big-league inning with an RBI double by RF Kevin Kiermaier and back-to-back singles by 3B Evan Longoria and 1B James Loney. They followed with three more runs in the fifth to break open the 8-0 win.

"It's the kind of game we're capable of, absolutely," manager Joe Maddon said. "Finally got the hits that we needed to."

Their eight runs were the most they've scored since May 25 against Boston, the last game before their 1-14 stretch. The Rays finished 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position, which was their best outing since getting seven hits in those situations against the Yankees on May 2.

"Games like (Saturday) always help," said OF Brandon Guyer, who had an RBI single.

Buchanan got the callup late Friday after the Astros scratched RHP Brad Peacock (food poisoning).

GETTING SHIFTY: The Rays have pointed to many reasons for their offensive struggles this season, from statistical anomalies to bad luck. Maddon threw out another possibility Saturday: defensive shifts.

The Rays were among the first teams to heavily use shifts, based on where batters are most likely to hit the ball. But other teams have caught up. Defensive shifts across the majors are up 74 percent from last year, ESPN says.

"We're getting beaten with our own stick right now," Maddon said. "We're making our adjustments now because the rest of the industry is starting to do certain things."

FAMILIAR FACES: With his start against Houston today, LHP Erik Bedard will check off the only team he hasn't faced in his career. Bedard was 4-12 as an Astros starter last season.

Maddon's biggest concern for Bedard is his recent spell of short starts. Bedard has lasted four or fewer innings a majors-most five times, including in each of his past two.

The key is Bedard's curveball, Maddon said. Bedard has thrown it less than 22 percent of the time, the second-lowest percentage of his career, says FanGraphs, even though Maddon calls it one of the staff's best pitches.

"If he's able to get that pitch over the plate, that's what really permits him to pitch more deeply into games," Maddon said.

MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) will make a rehab start at Triple-A Durham today. He's scheduled to last six innings or 90 pitches. It's possible he'll need one more rehab assignment before rejoining the Rays.

MISCELLANY: INF Sean Rodriguez told Maddon he made a mistake in being thrown out while trying to steal second base on a pitch in the dirt in Friday night's eighth inning of a 3-1 loss. "Hopefully he's not going to do it again," Maddon said. … Kiermaier landed the top spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays with Friday night's sliding catch into the bullpen. He had another sliding grab Saturday. … David Price and Jake Odorizzi are the first Rays starters to have double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back games since Price and James Shields did so against Oakland in July 2012. … George Springer's two-run home run Friday for Houston was estimated by ESPN's Hit Tracker at 442 feet, the longest at Tropicana Field since Mike Trout's 458-foot blast off Roberto Hernandez last August. … OF Wil Myers and RHP Kirby Yates will sign autographs for kids today from 12:30-1 p.m.

Rays have one of best offensive games this season 06/21/14 [Last modified: Saturday, June 21, 2014 10:31pm]

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