ST. PETERSBURG — Clayton Kershaw put on a pretty good show in his first career start at Tropicana Field, and his Dodgers teammates an impressive clinic in winning baseball in a 7-3 victory over the Rays on Tuesday.
Rays manager Kevin Cash took notice of the difference between the teams.
“I don’t know if any part of our game we performed well from defense to pitching to on the bases to our at-bats,’’ he said. “They definitely did a lot more right than we did.’’
For the 27-18 Rays, Tuesday’s game was the start of critical 6 ½ week stretch, the opening of a run of playing 34 games in 34 days (with one doubleheader and one day off) and 47 in 48 leading up to the early July All-Star break.
But it also was a continuation of their ongoing run of mediocrity, as they are now 13-14 since running their dazzling start to 14-4 on April 17, and lost 7 1/2 games in the standings.
Most irritating was how they’ve played recently, following up Sunday’s 13-5 debacle in New York with Tuesday’s mistake-laden performance.
“We did so many things really well early on in the year. We’ve played really good baseball,’’ Cash said. “Unfortunately the last two days, just ugly losses. I know an off-day was sandwiched in between there, but we’ve just got to bounce back. Bounce back (Wednesday), look for some better performances. They just beat us tonight.’’
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who made one of their costly mistakes in getting thrown out at third to open the eighth, had a similar take.
“We haven’t played clean baseball,’’ he said. “I think that’s pretty safe to say all across the board. You try to learn from your mistakes. We all have to be accountable for it. We win as a team, we lose as a team. It all it comes down to we definitely need to clean things up in all facets of the game. That was a tough one tonight. We all know we could have played better.’’
Kershaw spent parts of 12 years pitching nearly everywhere else, and often very well, before making it to the Trop mound. When he did, the three-time Cy Young award winner showed what all the accolades are about, scattering six hits while working into the seventh.
“There’s a reason he’s been good for so many years, and it was no different tonight,’’ Cash said. “He was really tough.''
The Dodgers built a 6-0 lead, taking advantage of Rays mistakes, such as rightfielder Avisail Garcia having a base hit go under his glove in the first to give away the first run, and beating the Rays in a way at their own game, breaking the shift with their hits and having their fielders in the right spots when they Rays put it in play.
Also in countering the impact of the opener by starting a lefty hitting DH in Matt Beaty to face Rays righty Hunter Wood, then pinch-hitting righty David Freese in the third when the Rays switched to lefty Jalen Beeks. That Freese doubled and ended up scoring made it more impactful.
None of the similar strategy was a surprise as they are two of the more advanced thinking organizations, with Andrew Friedman heading up the Rays baseball operations department before going to the Dodgers.
“They’re very well prepared,’’ Rays outfielder Tommy Pham said. “You see that. You saw (Max) Muncy take a bag, that tells me right there they had information on Beeks. You saw (Austin) Barnes takew the extra bag on a throw. Freese took the extra base on me because he saw where I was positioned way in left-center and he hits a ball to basically left field. Kike (Hernandez) we’re shifted him up the middle, he hits a ball to the right side.
“They basically took what we gave them. And that’s what good players and good teams do.''
The Rays rallied for three in the seventh as they chased Kershaw to close the gap to 6-3, but that was about it.
They may have had a chance for more when Kiermaier led off the eighth with a drive to left-center, but he was thrown out trying to get to third by Alex Verdugo.
"An amazing throw,'' Kiermaier said.
“Just an over aggressive play (by Kiermaier),’’ Cash said. "There shouldn’t be a play.''
The Rays had only seen Kershaw once previously, and that in 2013.
But a half-dozen of their hitters had faced him at some point, and it’s obviously been on TV and in all the papers just how good he is, even as he has transformed from the power pitcher he once was.
The Rays own really good lefty, one-time Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, is huge fan, placing Kershaw with Felix Hernandez as the top pitchers he’s seen.
“He’s a guy that I’ve always looked up to,’’ Snell said. “It’s always been him, Matt Moore, David (Price) and (Chris) Sale as the lefties that I’ve always really respected how they played the game. “To be able to watch him in person, I’m excited for it. More so how he holds himself, how he’s composed, all that. He’s the best of our time. … I admire the way he works, how long he’s done it, what he’s accomplished. There’s a lot there to really like about him.’’
Kershaw came to the Trop on Monday and did his usual pre-start throwing on the bullpen mound, no doubt amused as the annual media game was taking place on the field, to get ready.
“I had at least been here before. I’d come a few years ago,'' he said. "Not too out of the ordinary. Good mound, good place to pitch actually. It wasn’t bad.”
And he, and his teammates, were pretty good, especially compared to the Rays.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Contact @TBTimes_Rays.