CHICAGO — Cesar Ramos had looked good in racing through the first four innings against the White Sox on a frigid Saturday night.
But things got a little hot in the fifth, when a couple of walks and a single loaded the bases and Chicago's top hitter, Jose Abreu, the slugging rookie who did in the Rays the night before, was headed to the plate.
Manager Joe Maddon hadn't shown much faith previously in Ramos, the lefty who was making his third start since joining the rotation. And he had reliever Brandon Gomes, a righty who would match up better with Abreu, at the ready.
But Maddon — for several reasons — gave Ramos the chance, and the pitcher proved him right by getting Abreu to ground out, the key moment in a 4-0 victory that the Rays badly needed.
"It was one of those things I didn't want to get too smart with," Maddon said. "I just put the seat belt on right there."
First, the Rays are counting on Ramos, who took the place of injured Matt Moore, so leaving him in was a show of confidence by Maddon. It was also a courtesy, as Ramos needed to finish the fifth to qualify for the win, his first in six big-league starts.
But Maddon was looking beyond the mound as well, trying to limit the amount of work for his battered bullpen.
"Honestly, it was a combination of the two things," Maddon said. "I'm always making the decision based on what's best for the team, and with what's happened more recently, you just can't kill your bullpen."
That's where Gomes came in. Maddon apparently didn't have that much faith in Ramos, as he pulled him after a leadoff single in the sixth, on his 65th pitch.
But Gomes took it from there, working three impressive innings, and Juan Carlos Oviedo pitched the ninth. That could pay off for days, as the Rays have ace David Price going today and a forecast for a rainout Monday, which would allow them to get the bullpen back in order.
"That is so big what (Gomes) did," Maddon said.
Coming off the staggering walkoff loss Friday, and playing what, with a first-pitch temp of 36 degrees, was the second-coldest game in team history, the Rays (11-13) got off to a good start.
They took an early 3-0 lead, on a two-run double by catcher Ryan Hanigan (second on the team with 14 RBIs) and a single by James Loney.
Ramos, meanwhile, needed only 38 pitches to get through the first four innings, getting weak contact and quick outs.
"It was cold, it was tough to get a grip on the ball," said Ramos, a Southern California native. "It was just about getting in and out quick, getting my defense off the field as quickly as possible. The only way I could do that was by throwing strikes, getting them to put the ball in play."
Admitting it seemed "counterintuitive" to leave Ramos in, Maddon said he liked the way he handled Abreu his first two at-bats. He liked it even more when Ramos got him to bounce to third on a changeup to end the Chicago threat.
"Building that trust," Ramos said. "And hopefully with every outing that trust gets stronger."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.