Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander rewards manager's faith in key spot

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays LHP Jake McGee knows his job is to get some of the toughest left-handed hitters out.

And though McGee has struggled this season against lefties, who entered Sunday 4-for-8 against him, manager Joe Maddon trusted the hard-throwing reliever with one of the biggest outs in the Rays' 6-2 win over the Twins.

With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, Maddon pulled RHP Jeff Niemann and brought in McGee to face Twins left-handed slugger Justin Morneau.

McGee responded by striking out Morneau swinging on a slider, which C Chris Gimenez said was the best one McGee has thrown all year.

"I felt really good," McGee said. "It was a good confidence boost."

Maddon said despite McGee's previous struggles there was no question who would get the ball.

"You've got to keep putting the guy out there. You can't walk away from that moment because he hasn't had success to this point," Maddon said. "That's his job. That's what he's supposed to do.

"So even though he's had a little bit of a problem, or it's not been successful to this point, he will be. That's what Jake is capable of doing, and he's going to do it a lot more often for us."

Gimenez said he liked how McGee, who has been working on his slider to add to his mid-90s fastball, trusted the pitch on a 2-and-2 count in a key situation.

"It's starting to really come around for him," Gimenez said. "He's starting to get confidence in that, and for him, that's going to be a big thing."

LONG GONE: 3B Evan Longoria thought he might have missed out on a homer in a strange play in the fourth. For the first Rays hit of the game, Longoria hit a towering fly ball to leftfield that Maddon said appeared destined for the seats. But it hit the B-ring catwalk, which is in play, and the ball bounced into shallow left-center. Longoria slid in for a double but asked umpires to check if the hit had been a home run. If a fair ball hits the C- or D-ring, it is ruled a home run.

"I thought I hit it good enough for it to be a home run, anyway," Longoria said. "I guess the good thing is it didn't get caught. If it gets caught, I get … everything taken away. That's the Trop for you."

It was the first time this season a ball hit a catwalk in play.

POWER TIME: Maddon said though LF Desmond Jennings initially surprised him with his power last year, when he racked up 10 homers in 63 games as a rookie, it's part of the leadoff hitter's game.

Jennings hit his second homer in four games Sunday, after totaling two in his previous 41, and he has hit safely in seven of his past eight games.

"When he hits them, he hits them really well," Maddon said. "Desmond is heating up nicely, working good at-bats."

LEANING LEFT: Though OF Matt Joyce has been hot at the plate, hitting safely in eight of his past nine games (.375), he was on the bench Sunday, when the Twins started LHP Francisco Liriano.

Maddon said a key part of keeping Joyce successful offensively is putting him in the lineup with the right matchups. He has hit .353 against righties, .222 (4-for-18) against lefties. Maddon believes Joyce could get on a strong streak, like last year when he led the league in hitting as late as June 2.

"I don't see why it can't happen if we keep putting him on the right guys," Maddon said. "There's certain lefties I might play him against, but to this point he's done a nice job, and he can get hot like that."

MISCELLANY: Elliot Johnson made a rare start, his first in the past 11 games, at second base, going 0-for-2, getting hit by a pitch and stealing a base. … The Rays have loaded the bases in each of their past five games and have gone 4-for-8 with one walk in that span.

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