Manager Joe Maddon thought he had found an innovative way to boost the Rays' chances of winning Sunday night against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw by batting starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson eighth.
But that proved irrelevant. Hellickson's rough outing on the mound was the bigger issue as the Rays went down ugly and meekly 8-2, losing for the fifth straight time in wrapping up their first winless multiseries road trip in more than five years.
"It's just something we have to bounce back from," Hellickson said. "We've done it before. We're still right there as bad as this road trip was. We just have to keep grinding. We're fine."
The Rays flew home overnight 66-50 and fortunate to be only three games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox, who lost three of four in Kansas City.
The skid is the Rays' longest since they opened the 2011 season losing six straight, though no other team had gone as long without losing five in a row.
And it was their first winless trip of two or more series since they went into the 2008 All-Star break losing seven straight at New York and Cleveland, though they did end that season in the World Series.
"You're going to hit those bumps," Maddon said. "I'm honestly not concerned about any of it."
Much like Roberto Hernandez on Saturday against Zack Greinke, Hellickson put the Rays in an early hole against the red-hot Dodgers, whose 37-8 run is the best 45-game stretch in the majors since 1977 (Royals) and in the NL since 1953 (Dodgers), allowing four runs before leaving after three innings.
"We just didn't pitch well. We didn't give ourselves a chance the last couple days," Maddon said. "In order to beat Greinke and to beat Kershaw, you have to match them on the mound, which we can do. We normally do. I hope we get another chance come October."
Hellickson's performance continued an inconsistent season and a disturbing pattern. It was the third straight start in which he hasn't gotten through five innings and the sixth time in the past nine games overall for the Rays.
Maddon said the issue seems to be a matter of Hellickson's secondary pitches, specifically the changeup, not working well. Hellickson said he feels fine, that it's more a matter of not making a good pitch when he needs to, such as allowing a two-run single with two outs in the second to Kershaw.
"I'm just not pitching well," Hellickson said. "A few games I've been in a spot where I could make a big pitch with two outs and I'd be fine and I could work deep into the game, and every time I don't get the job done. The last two weeks have been pretty frustrating, but I'll be okay."
Not that he or the relievers got much support, as the Rays were hitless into the fifth and managed only three total.
Pitching, hitting, defense, it was a long week of nothing — innovative or normal — really working.
"It was tough for us," outfielder Wil Myers said. "We didn't hit well. We just weren't in the game sometimes. We struggled. That's all there is to it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]ay.com.