ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose offense has been sputtering for most of the past month, took Wednesday to shuffle his batting order.
He gave his hottest hitter, eight-year veteran Avisail Garcia, his second career start in the leadoff spot against the Dodgers, just one of several out-of-the-box lineup adjustments.
The batting order was unconventional, to say the least, but of course, if there’s any team that defies convention, it’s the Rays.
And while Garcia’s place is typically in the middle of the order, he was in the perfect spot to deliver one of the biggest hits of the game, belting a three-run homer that paced a seven-run seventh inning en route to an 8-1 victory at Tropicana Field in front of an announced crowd of 12,826.
The victory for the Rays (28-18) gave them a split of their two-game series against the NL-best Dodgers (32-18).
"We got a big win today," Garcia said. "It's big for us. We've been losing a little bit, but that's baseball. That happens, so we just have to keep our head up and do what we've been doing the whole year, never give up and try to win every day.
Cash’s batting order shuffle included placing two of his most struggling hitters in the middle of the lineup: Willy Adames in the cleanup spot and Daniel Robertson behind him batting fifth. The team’s leading home-run hitter, Brandon Lowe, batted ninth.
Cash has certainly been patient in hoping his offense would find its way. But the Rays entered the interleague matchup having scored three or fewer runs in seven of their past 10 games and 13 of their past 21.
"We talk about it, creating momentum," Cash said. "I don't know how you do it. You've got to have some guys have some good at bats or make a big (defensive) play. We didn't have any lately, the last couple nights or days."
During their majors-best 14-4 start, Tampa Bay averaged exactly five runs a game. In the 28 games since then entering Wednesday, they Rays averaged a full run less.
Also, their .239 team batting average over their past 28 games is 30 points lower than their team batting average during their 18-game start.
Lowe had previously hit in six different spots in the batting order this season, but he never batted ninth until Wednesday. But his run-scoring single off Dodgers right-hander Dylan Floro opened the Rays’ seventh-inning scoring after pinch-hitter Austin Meadows was hit by a pitch and Guillermo Heredia singled.
Cash put Garcia, a middle-of-the-order slugger who entered the game hitting .360 in May, at the leadoff spot to give him more at-bats. While Garcia has drawn attention for his tape-measure homers, Cash has been pleased with the slugger’s patient approach at the plate recently, especially the discipline he has shown laying off the type of breaking balls that Dodgers starter Rich Hill has made a career throwing.
And in the seventh, Garcia flexed his muscle, taking a belt-high outside fastball the opposite way into the rightfield seats.
"I like it, yeah," Garcia said of hitting leadoff. "Wherever they put me, I'm going to do my best for sure."
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who prevented a go-ahead run earlier in the game by throwing out Cody Bellinger at the plate as he tried to score Russell Martin’s two-out single, added a three-run homer later that inning.
Kiermaier took a first-pitch fastball up in the zone from Caleb Ferguson over the left-centerfield fence for his fourth home run of the season and his first against a left-hander.
"For him to do what he did on defense and then at the plate to really separate the game was big for us," Cash said. "We needed a little bit of breathing room. We haven't had much lately."
Before the seventh inning, the Rays were held to one run on five hits by left-hander Rich Hill. Their only run over that stretch came on a fourth-inning solo homer by Tommy Pham, one of the few Rays to remain in his typical No. 2 spot in the order.
“It wasn’t easy today,” Cash said. “Rich Hill was on. Limited us big time. ... There’s weren’t a ton of hard hits. But I was more impressed the guys didn’t get discouraged. They just kind of stayed there. Meadows comes up and leads off the inning, gets hit on the foot and it kind of snowballed from there.”
After the Rays’ Ryne Stanek opened the game with 1⅔ scoreless innings, Yonny Chirinos entered and allowed a run — Max Muncy’s solo home run in the sixth — in 3⅔ innings of bulk relief duty.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieInTheYard.