MILWAUKEE — Tuesday, Rays manager Joe Maddon might have been better off putting Sam Fuld on the mound and letting him pitch.
That's because the "real" relievers Maddon did use didn't do very well, turning what had been a tense pitcher's duel between Jeremy Hellickson and Brewers ace Zack Greinke into a mess.
The result was a 5-1 interleague loss that stopped the Rays winning streak at four and cost them a rare chance to gain on Boston, remaining 4½ games back at 40-34.
"We have to do better," Maddon said. "We walked too many guys tonight."
Hellickson overcome his own shaky start, walking the bases loaded in the first, to work six innings while allowing only two runs. "I was really impressed," Maddon said. "A great job." And Greinke, the former Royals ace who has tormented the Rays before, was even better, shutting them out through the first six innings then allowing a single run in the seventh.
But right after the Rays pulled to within 2-1, the day after Maddon caused some controversy by having Fuld warm up to stall as another reliever warmed, the bullpen gave it back. And then some, before a Miller Park crowd of 40,079, some of which had to dodge raindrops as there was a leak in the roof and it was storming mightily outside.
Walks were the consistent theme — the Rays gave up seven — leaving J.P. Howell to reference the dark days of seasons past.
"You never want to bring up the Devil Rays, but that's how they did it," Howell said. "That's how every loser does it. Anyone who loses a lot, that's what they do. It's so simple the equation. We followed the negative one (Tuesday night)."
After an infield single to start the seventh, Adam Russell gave one up, putting on pinch-hitter Craig Counsell. After getting out leadoff man Rickie Weeks, he gave way to Howell, with the tough task of righty Ryan Braun and lefty Prince Fielder looming.
Howell, pitching on back-to-back days for the third time since his return from the disabled list, wasn't up to it. "I was terrible," he said in the clubhouse, downcast but much calmer than during his tirade in the dugout.
He started poorly, walking light-hitting pinch-hitter Josh Wilson on four pitches to load the bases. "Terrible tone," Howell said. "Negative. Pretty much asking for it."
He got it, in a hurry, Braun smacking the first pitch to left for a two-run single and Fielder following with another single to left — both taking advantage of weak-armed Johnny Damon, who was still in leftfield,
Maddon was concerned about Braun but likes the left-handed Howell enough on right-handers that he had no second thoughts: "On Braun, it doesn't matter if you're right- or left-handed or if you're ambidextrous. You have to make a good pitch."
Hellickson, with three dozen friends and relatives making the seven-hour drive from his native Des Moines, Iowa, had all kinds of trouble at the start, unable to find his changeup and not having much luck with the fastball as he walked three of the first four.
He got out of the first allowing only one run on a sac fly, then gave up another in the second as Yusiensky Betancourt, the only member of the Brewers who had faced him, homered on his second pitch, an emerging concern as nine of the past 10 runs he has allowed have come on home runs.
"I didn't know what was going on really," he said. "I was trying to throw strikes, I swear."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]