For a number of Rays pitchers, the road has been rough:
Player Home Rec. ERA Road Rec. ERA
Matt Garza 3-0 2.40 1-3 6.25
Scott Kazmir 4-0 0.35 2-2 3.16
James Shields 3-1 1.72 1-4 6.99
Grant Balfour 0-0 0.00 0-0 4.91
Jason Hammel 1-0 3.38 2-2 5.93
Trever Miller 0-0 0.00 0-0 10.29
Troy Percival 1-0 1.26 0-0 6.43
Al Reyes 1-1 1.08 0-1 7.36
Dan Wheeler 1-1 0.75 0-2 3.18
ST. PETERSBURG — After an eventful, emotional and exhausting road trip that saw them fall out of first place and show their frustration in several ways, the Rays have to be happy to be back at Tropicana Field for a nine-game interleague homestand that starts tonight.
Especially the pitchers.
For all the previous barriers the Rays have broken down in their thus-far successful season, the pitching has been primarily a local attraction.
The same staff that has a major-league best 2.81 ERA at home ranks among the worst with a 5.05 ERA on the road, and a difference of nearly 2¼ runs per game is a significant reason for the disparity in their record — 24-10 (.706) at home versus 14-18 (.438) on the road — and a cause for concern with 49 road games remaining.
"We definitely have to get better on the road in order to make a push for the playoffs," said starter James Shields, whose 3-1, 1.72 vs. 1-4, 6.99 discrepancy is one of the most significant. "We have to start bearing down a little bit and start focusing a little more."
Rays officials don't have any specific explanations. Pitching coach Jim Hickey, who doesn't spend much time with statistics, said he had no idea the disparity was that significant based on what he has seen. "I just look at are we doing what we need to be doing, and for the most part, we are," Hickey said.
On a general basis, manager Joe Maddon attributes the problem to the youth of most of the staff (such as a 26-and-under rotation), figuring the veterans' performance will even out.
Not because the young pitchers are doing young guy things like staying out all night or showing up unprepared ("Not at all," Maddon said). It's that they don't have the experience to deal with difficulties of pitching on the road, such as hostile crowds, different mounds and backdrops, weather and home team momentum.
"I believe it's easier for a guy to hit somewhere else than it is to pitch somewhere else," Maddon said. "I think it's experience. I don't think it's really complicated; I think it's just that simple. As we get more miles under our belts, we'll pitch better on the road. … It's all about your mind. You have to trick yourself into mentally creating this environment that's more conducive to success. And the more you are in those different venues, the more comfortable you are in them."
There are some specific reasons, too.
One is where they've played, such as six games (0-6, 7.88 ERA, .330 average) at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox rake, plus Texas, New York, St. Louis and Baltimore, all above-average home-hitting teams.
"We haven't really gone into a lot of places that are really easy to pitch," closer Troy Percival said.
Another is knowing how to handle it.
"You've got 50,000 people screaming at you, and it feels like the whole stadium is on top of you and against you," Percival said.
Young pitchers, Dan Wheeler said, sometimes "want to do too much when something starts escalating for the home team. The crowd starts to get into it, and you have to realize you have to slow things down and slow them down a little bit."
And then there's the other side of the equation, which is how well they have pitched at home (including the three Disney games), with a stellar 1.96 ERA during an 11-game April-May winning streak in which they allowed one or no runs six times.
"We feel comfortable at home," starter Andy Sonnanstine said.
"That's our place of business. You know the elements — there's never any variance in the temperature, the sun, the wind, anything like that."
To be fair, Hickey said, it's only about 40 percent into the season, and both their home and road numbers are probably a bit skewed. "One's higher than I would expect, and one's lower than I would expect," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.