CLEVELAND — The first half of the season has been tough enough, what with the injuries, the inconsistencies and the incessant mistakes. And after another bad night in a 7-3 loss to the Indians on Saturday, the Rays need a win today, with veteran James Shields on the mound, to keep the sting from sticking with them throughout the upcoming four-day All-Star break.
"No question, to win (today), get Shields out there to pitch his typical game and go home with a win would be outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "Just try to regroup, try to reorganize in some areas, just try to get better at some of the things that we normally do well that we haven't to this point, and move on from there.
"With all the stuff that's been going on, all the moving parts, I'm definitely pleased we are within this striking distance. But we're still making too many awkward mistakes that have to go away."
Saturday, that started — and pretty much ended — with rookie lefty Matt Moore, who delivered one of his most disappointing outings of the season, giving up five runs on five hits (all doubles) and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning.
"It was a pretty poor effort," Moore said, "and not much else other than that."
Moore, who dropped to 5-6 with a 4.42 ERA, couldn't do much of anything well.
"Matty did not have one of his better days," Maddon said. "A decent first inning, then it just got away from him. He had an uncomfortable look and command issues. … We needed a little better start to stay competitive and win that game, because their guy was pretty sharp. It's just a youthful thing, and I still firmly believe in how good he's going to be. It was just a tough night for him."
And that was pretty much it for the Rays, who dropped to 44-41, 71/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees, though only two off the wild-card pace. The offense — except for Luke Scott, now on a hot streak with homers in back-to-back games — showed no carryover from Friday's 10-run, 13-hit outburst, scoring four or fewer runs for the 11th time in the past 13 games. Plus, the Rays struck out 12 more times.
The Rays said Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who worked six strong innings, deserved credit, but that has become a common concession.
"Obviously, something we've been struggling to do is hit consistently," infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "It stinks to say that every time, but most of the time that's what it seems to be, a pitcher just making his pitches."
And there was the Rays' now-standard series of mistakes or unmade plays in the field. Leftfielder Desmond Jennings and Rodriguez came up short on diving catches that led to runs.
Added was the burden of getting a 25th out. The Rays were called out of the dugout after seemingly ending the seventh. Home plate umpire Scott Barry overruled first-base ump Jerry Meals that first baseman Carlos Peña had hung on to a Rodriguez throw, though Maddon said Barry made the right call.
A win today and a strong start from Shields — who has allowed 24 hits in his past two games — could go a long way. Like, all the way until they host the Red Sox on Friday.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.