Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays hot streak ends with Pirates rout

ST. PETERSBURG — Monday started with a novelty, Durant High's Chelsea Baker throwing her knuckleball to a few Rays hitters during batting practice.

But after that, pretty much more of what has become the same old bit, starting with another loss, this time 8-1 to the Pirates.

The offense was again impotent, posting just six singles while grounding into three more double plays. There were some defensive lapses. A couple mistakes on the mound, starting with starter Alex Cobb. Even another injury, with word that Jerry Sands is out at least three weeks, maybe the season.

"Tough night," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "Nothing really went right for us offensively or defensively."

It got so bad, infielder Logan Forsythe was warming up to pitch during the ninth before Kirby Yates — finally — got the third out.

Having taken three of four from the Astros and seven of 11 overall, the Rays had a chance to shed the label of the majors' worst record, but the loss left them the proud owners at 31-47.

"We did not play our best game tonight," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've been playing better."

The lack of support has been commonplace when Cobb is on the mound, as the Rays have scored only 12 runs during his 591/3 innings over 10 starts, a puny 1.82 runs per nine innings that would be by far the majors' lowest if he had enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard.

The twist Monday was that Cobb had some issues as well, allowing six runs and lasting only five innings.

The big problem was a three-run homer he allowed to Pedro Alvarez, after a two-out four-pitch walk in the third, that turned a 3-0 hole into a 6-0 canyon.

"I can trace the 'bad outing' back to that pitch," Cobb said. "It's tough to sneak a fastball down the middle."

But there was more in play, as Cobb did not seem sharp.

"He was fighting himself, maybe overthinking it a little bit because overall, command was not there with his fastball, the velocity was down a click," Maddon said. "He was just off."

The Pirates' speed and aggressiveness was an issue, as they stole a season-high four bases, three of which led to runs. Also, their placement of ground balls, or the Rays infielders' inability to make the plays, though Maddon said he had no issues with their effort, including shortstop Yunel Escobar.

"It's tough," Cobb said. "You think you made quality pitches and then ground balls find holes. And you get guys on first and then you're worrying about the guys on first, and they're stealing bases at will, really. So maybe you're a little bit frustrated at that. And you pay for it on a poorly located ball."

The Pirates, playing at the Trop for the first time since 2003, got two in a messy first in which Cobb hit one of them and they hit a ball off his leg for an RBI single.

They got four in the third, starting with hits by Starling Marte and Fort Meade product Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, and ending with the big blast by Alvarez.

Hitting Baker's dancing knuckleball turned out not to be the Rays' biggest challenge as they were shut down by Edinson Volquez, the 21st time they've been held to one run or fewer.

With rookie Yates struggling to finish the ninth, Forsythe went to the bullpen but turned out not be needed. Things haven't gotten to that point yet.

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