KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rays are in desperate need of change.
As they headed home to cooler temperatures after their latest disappointment, a 5-4, sweep-completing loss to the plucky Royals on a sizzling Wednesday afternoon, it was obvious something has to happen.
The results — three straight losses to the Royals, the 3-6 road trip, the 10 losses in their past 15 games that dropped them to 40-35 overall and caught for third in the AL East standings by Boston — are glaring signs. So is their performance, as they continue to play poorly, alternately making critical mistakes and failing to make key plays.
"What do I think it will take?" rightfielder Ben Zobrist said. "I think we need to hit better, we need to pitch better, we need to play better defense. That's about it."
Some upgrades are coming.
DH Luke Scott, hitting .220 with nine homers and 35 RBIs, is set to come off the disabled list today and push Hideki Matsui, and his .162 average, back to a reserve role and return a fourth player to their bench. Rookie pitcher Chris Archer was sent back to Triple-A Durham to make room.
By Saturday they expect to have Jeremy Hellickson back in the rotation and Joel Peralta, who was suspended, and Kyle Farnsworth, who had been hurt, in the bullpen working high-leverage situations in front of closer Fernando Rodney, replacing Archer, Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos.
That's a start, but it might not be enough given that a lack of offense has been their primary problem as they hit .226 over the nine games and scored a total of 31 runs. And with outfielder Matt Joyce out at least another week, and third baseman Evan Longoria until sometime after the All-Star break, they have to figure something out before they fall too far behind, with the potent Tigers and powerful Yankees next on their schedule.
"We're getting a lot of guys well," manager Joe Maddon said. "Not a lot of position players, more on the pitching side of things. Nevertheless, it's always nice to have that infusion going on.
"But even one bat could make a huge difference, also. If Scotty's able to show up (tonight) and swing the bat like he had been for a while there in the beginning of the season, that would be a big boost for us."
Wednesday had the potential to provide some momentum, as they fell behind 4-0 despite a decent outing by rookie starter Matt Moore, then battled back, scoring two in the sixth and two more in the eighth on the biggest hit of the week, a two-run triple by Zobrist with one out.
But they couldn't get ahead, and the Royals quickly answered as Burke Badenhop served up a one-out homer to Billy Butler that left the Rays swept for the third time this season. "It's so reminiscent, the three series," Maddon said. "These guys, the White Sox and the Mets, where everything they hit was good, and we just couldn't get a knock, we couldn't make the pitch."
For much of the past two months, they've talked a lot about treading water. Wednesday, Zobrist acknowledged "these last three games just felt we went under for a couple days there."
Something needs to change.
"We'd like to play a little better baseball overall," said James Shields, who starts tonight. "We're capable of doing much more. We've just got to keep grinding it out. It's a long season. Obviously we're having a tough little stretch right now. Hopefully when we get back home we can get back on track."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]