KANSAS CITY — The Rays appear to have their starting pitching back in order, as Matt Andriese on Monday gave them a fourth straight strong start, working seven innings against the Royals while allowing just a pair of runs.
And, apart from some beautiful weather, that was about it for any good news from Kauffman Stadium.
With the offense sputtering and the defense damaging, and typically clutch reliever Erasmo Ramirez having an uncharacteristically rough night, the Rays lost yet again, this time 6-2. That makes eight losses in 10 games, dropping them to 22-27, a season worst five games under .500, and further into last place in the AL East.
"We're not a team that is going to separate a lot of ballgames," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We've got to play pretty clean baseball. Right now, where we're at, it seems those defensive miscues are really showing up big. That's probably more of a sign of team that's in a little bit of a funk. But, yes, we've got to clean it up defensively."
In spite of themselves, they were tied after scratching out a run in the eighth, thanks to some aggressive baserunning by Steve Pearce and a well-placed single by Steven Souza Jr. But then the relentless Royals countered by scoring the decisive run, Lorenzo Cain singling just past diving second baseman Taylor Motter, who was playing in with runners on the corners.
Alcides Escobar started the rally with a one-out single. Because he was running, Motter, by pre-arranged plan with shortstop Brad Miller, was covering and broke toward the base, and thus Whit Merrifield's grounder went from potential double play to rally-sparking single. "Just bad luck," Motter said. That Eric Hosmer followed Cain's hit with a three-run homer off Ramirez, who allowed four consecutive hits. made it that much worse.
But the Rays deserved their fate given how they had play, three errors total.
"We let this one get away from us," catcher Hank Conger said.
The offense was bad enough, loading the bases twice in the first five innings off charitable starter Ian Kennedy (five walks) with nothing to show for it. Souza struck out looking on three pitches to end the first. Logan Morrison, who has been one of their hottest hitters, popped out to end the fifth.
Overall, they had only five hits. They left eight men on. They went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. And it wasn't just Monday. They have scored eight runs total in their past five losses, over a span of six games.
"We're just scuffling as a team right now," Pearce said. "We've got to grind through it.''
But the defense cost them more, and that was just during a two-batter sequence in the fifth, giving — yes, giving is the right word — the Royals a 2-1 lead.
First Desmond Jennings, getting a start in center, casually misplayed a one-out single by Jarrod Dyson, allowing him to hustle his way to second.
And that was the less egregious mistake. Dyson broke for third on ball four to Drew Butera, and Conger unleashed one of the worst unimpeded throws you'll ever see a big-league catcher make. The ball soared so high (6 feet?) and wide of the base (4 feet to the fair side?) that third baseman Evan Longoria didn't even make an attempt. Dyson scrambled to his feet and raced home with the go-ahead run.
"It got away,'' Conger said. "Just sailed on me. Maybe in the back of my mind I was thinking I should just eat it."
Throwing has been an issue for Conger, though his numbers this season, catching two of 16 attempted base-stealers (and two in his previous four attempts) are improved over last season with Houston, when he nabbed just one of 43.
Defense seemed to be an issue on the Royals' first run as well when Pearce, who started at second base but left due to elbow irritation, thought about throwing home but instead let slow-footed Kendry Morales score and took the out at first. Cash, though, said Pearce made the right play since the infield was playing back.
The Rays have felt better about their vaunted rotation, getting three strong starts – although only one win – in the weekend series against the Yankees. Chris Archer went a season-high eight innings Friday in allowing four runs (one earned), Matt Moore went 6 2/3 on Saturday in the lone victory, and then Jake Odorizzi took a no-hitter into the seventh on Sunday before allowing a walk and a homer that was the difference.
Andriese fell right in line Monday, working seven innings on 90 pitches, allowing five hits and the two runs (one earned) with two walks and three strikeouts. "That's what we focus on as a staff," Andriese said. "Just to go deep. Give us a chance to win.''
Even his night was marred, however, as he was twice called for balks, the first Rays pitcher to have two in a game. One came from a bad idea pick-off that he had to abort, the other when he caught his cleat in the dirt during his delivery, the second time that has happened.
"Matt Andriese was outstanding, really delivered an outstanding start,'' Cash said. "From a pitching perspective, we're starting to string together some pretty good starts. That's probably the most encouraging thing out of the loss."
Actually it was the only thing.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow at @TBTimes_Rays