ST. PETERSBURG — By the middle of the third inning of Tuesday's 2-1 loss, Rays manager Joe Maddon had already seen enough to be concerned.
His starter, Wade Davis, had already thrown 83 pitches. His first six hitters had gone down meekly. And his team was trailing by two runs to a Padres team with a dominant bullpen.
Uncharacteristically, Maddon strode through the dugout demonstratively admonishing his players to wake up, with a "the" and an adjective in between.
"When your pitcher is throwing that many balls, you have a tendency to get laid back or you get back on your heels a little bit," Maddon said. "And I just wanted to make sure that we were weren't."
Maddon said the outburst was as simple as that, not the culmination of frustration over the recent stretch in which the Rays (42-28) have lost 16 of 26 and blown a six-game AL East lead to drop into second place.
As it turned out, Davis' "real rough" performance — his fourth straight loss and seventh in his past nine starts — wasn't the only thing Maddon had to be frustrated about.
When the Rays did finally rally in the eighth to cut the lead to 2-1, they lost a solid chance for more when Carl Crawford's smash between first and second struck John Jaso — on the metal cleats on the bottom of his shoes.
"One of those unlucky things," Jaso said.
"Very non-fortuitous," Maddon said.
And very deflating. Rather than first and third with one out, they had only Crawford on first with two outs, and Padres closer Heath Bell came on — for his first four-out save since September — to strike out Evan Longoria.
They threatened again in the ninth when Carlos Peña drew a leadoff walk, but Ben Zobrist's fly was just feet short of the rightfield wall, pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez was caught stealing and B.J. Upton struck out.
"In order to win, in order to go play the last game of the year and win it, you have to figure out how to win games like tonight," Maddon said.
Davis made that difficult, throwing 30 pitches in the first and 42 in the two-run third, walking a career-high five (and hitting another to force in the second run) and lasting only 41/3, throwing 103 pitches total.
Despite Davis' struggles — 2-7, 6.26 ERA over his past nine starts — Maddon said there has not been talk of dropping the 24-year-old rookie from the rotation. One option is promoting top prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who is 9-2, 2.33 at Triple-A Durham. Another would be moving Andy Sonnanstine, who was sharp again in long relief (eight scoreless innings over his past three games), into the rotation.
"The bigger discussion is getting Wade right," Maddon said.
The problem stems from an ongoing lack of fastball command, but Davis insisted it wasn't a big deal. "This is definitely nothing to panic about," he said. "I feel good, body feels good, delivery is still good."
Add another poor performance at the plate — with only three hits in seven innings against Padres starter Mat Latos ("I want to check his birth certificate," Maddon said. "I don't think he's 22.") — and it was a night worth getting loud about.
"I do a lot of things people don't see," Maddon said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.