ST. PETERSBURG — With the bullpen taxed, having to soak up 81/3 innings Saturday, RHP Brandon Gomes had to fall on the sword.
Gomes was optioned to Triple-A Durham after the 4-3, 12-inning loss to the A's as the Rays needed a fresh reliever, with a corresponding move expected before today's game.
But Gomes' teammates and manager Joe Maddon appreciated his gutsy, 42-pitch outing Saturday, in which he was booed but battled his way out of a huge jam in the 10th.
Maddon did not want to use veteran RHP Joel Peralta or RHP Wade Davis — "arm preservation" — which is why he had nobody warming up even after Gomes threw 14 of his first 17 pitches for balls in the 10th, loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter.
The Tropicana Field crowd grew restless with Gomes, letting him hear it, before he escaped the inning by getting Brandon Inge on a strikeout and Jemile Weeks on a groundout to thwart the threat.
Gomes then tossed a 1-2-3 inning in the 11th.
"Outstanding job," Maddon said. "He's not had enough work, he's facing a very difficult moment, a pretty good crowd getting on him a little bit. And he showed you why he's as tough as he is. That wasn't lost on me or the players, everyone really appreciated what he did (Saturday)."
Gomes had struggled Friday night, too, allowing four of the six batters he faced to reach safely in his first appearance since April 26. Maddon blamed himself for not using Gomes often enough to keep him sharp.
But the Rays got the most out of Gomes this weekend.
"I really liked how Gomes battled through his inning and gave us a chance," Ben Zobrist said.
Early exit: RHP Jeremy Hellickson was "not pleased at all" after struggling with command in his shortest start of his career Saturday, lasting just 32/3 innings.
Hellickson allowed three runs, two earned, but threw just 59 of his 102 pitches for strikes, allowing five hits and three walks. Hellickson got into eight full counts, with Maddon saying his stuff and velocity were good, just lacking in fastball command.
"I felt good, I've just got to throw more strikes," Hellickson said.
It was the shortest start of the season by a Rays pitcher. Hellickson's previous shortest regular-season start was 41/3 innings on Aug. 11 against the Yankees.
OLD SCHOOL: LHP J.P. Howell gave the Rays a big lift, soaking up 21/3 innings after Hellickson's exit. He allowed one hit and struck out one in his longest relief appearance since Aug. 30, 2008, when he tossed 22/3 innings against Cleveland.
Howell's last two-inning appearance came May 29, 2009.
HOT CORNER: INF Will Rhymes, who made his third big-league start at third base, said he's getting more comfortable there. But he had a rough day Saturday, picking up a throwing error and misplaying a popup in the second that led to a single.
LOOKING UP: Maddon liked what he saw out of CF B.J. Upton in the second spot in the order Friday and had him there again Saturday, with plans on potentially sticking with it for a while. "He looked good right there," Maddon said. "It's something I've been thinking about, we've talked about since spring training. Just talked about maybe the right time to try to get it done. … Maybe it's the right time; we'll find out."
MISCELLANY: 1B Carlos Peña's solo homer in the fifth was his first homer since collecting his 1,000th career hit with a home run on April 24 against the Angels. … Maddon managed his 1,000th game with the Rays.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]