ST. PETERSBURG — Rays leftfielder Sam Fuld struggled to speak with an ugly gash in his lower lip, which was ballooned and bloodied.
He received it doing a face plant into the leg of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy while getting caught stealing in the seventh inning of Sunday's 9-3 loss before 21,205 at Tropicana Field.
Fuld needed only two stitches to repair his lip, but sewing up first place in the American League East might be a lot tougher than that for the Rays unless they can patch the hole in the No. 5 spot of their rotation and solidify some long relief.
Andy Sonnanstine, making his second start in place of injured Jeff Niemann, and four relievers were battered for 15 hits by the Orioles, including a sixth-inning grand slam by Hardy off Cesar Ramos that put the game away.
The loss snapped a streak of four series victories for the Rays (23-17), who inexplicably fell to 1-5 at home against the O's.
After the game, Rays manager Joe Maddon said he believed his team — which has not scored more than five runs in a game at the Trop this season — might be "fatigued" from the 5-1 road trip that preceded the weekend series.
Fortunately, the Rays have a few things going in their favor heading into tonight's long-awaited two-game series with the Yankees: lefty ace David Price, and the taste of bad blood that comes with the heated AL East rivalry as second-place New York comes in two games behind the Rays.
"I think there were moments where we were kind a little bit complacent," Fuld said. "I think we've just relied on our starting pitching so much, it can be dangerous territory when you think you just need to put up a couple of runs."
With Niemann on the disabled list with a lower back strain, Sonnanstine threw more strikes and lasted more than the 31/3 innings he gave the Rays in his first start May 10 at Cleveland. But he left the game after five innings trailing 4-2 after giving up eight hits and a solo home run to Nick Markakis after the Rays had closed to within a run.
"I think being in the zone a little too much may have worked against me," Sonnanstine said. "A couple mistakes to Markakis really did me in."
Niemann could miss at least a couple of more weeks, and Maddon stopped short of saying Sonnanstine had done enough to keep that No. 5 spot in the rotation, which is 1-5 this season.
"We can discuss that, and we can look at other options going into the next start," Maddon said. "I'm not ready to say one way or the other right now. … This is something we're definitely going to have to look at, there's no question about it. He looked a little bit better today, but to be a pennant-winning team and move onto the World Series … there are little areas we need to address and discuss and make sure we're strong."
Chief among them is the bullpen. In their past five games, Rays relievers have allowed 11 earned runs in 152/3 innings (6.32 ERA). On Sunday, Rob Delaney replaced Sonnanstine in the sixth and walked the bases loaded, including one intentionally. Enter Ramos, who fell behind 2-and-0 before Hardy launched the next pitch inside the leftfield foul pole.
Aside from Matt Joyce, who homered for the first time off a left-hander, and shortstop Elliot Johnson, who hit his first major-league home run, the Rays swung some heavy bats. Orioles starter Jake Arrieta scattered four hits and two runs over six innings.
"We play a very aggressive game mentally and physically, and I may have seen a little bit of tiredness out of the boys the last two days," Maddon said. "So (today) we're going to move everything back. We're going to come to the ballpark later and not hit on the field. Just get loose and play a game."
And like Fuld, the Rays are eager to get rid of the taste from a lost weekend.
"With the Yankees and us being 1-2 in the standings, there will be no problem getting up for these two (games)," Fuld said.