Rain seemed a pain for Rays, but could be a good thing

Wednesday’s game was postponed due to forecast storms, so Rays and Yankees will play a Thursday DH starting at 3 p.m.
Dark clouds and storms that rolled in Wednesday night were reasons why July 17 game between the Rays and Yankees was canceled. [KATHY WILLENS | Associated Press]
Dark clouds and storms that rolled in Wednesday night were reasons why July 17 game between the Rays and Yankees was canceled. [KATHY WILLENS | Associated Press]
Published July 18

NEW YORK — The Rays, of course, were ready to play Wednesday night. And at the scheduled first pitch time of 7:05 p.m. they certainly could have.

But the decision to postpone the game due to forecast “severe inclement weather” and schedule a standard doubleheader for 3 p.m. Thursday might actually work in their favor.

“Obviously it kind of stinks, but maybe not the worst thing," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I kind of like the off day to freshen our bullpen up a little bit."

The Rays will keep their rotation in order, starting scheduled Wednesday starter Yonny Chirinos in the first game and Charlie Morton as planned in the second game. The Yankees will use Wednesday starter Domingo German in the opener and either an opener for a bullpen day (Chad Green?) or a call-up in the second.

Cash said they were still deciding Wednesday night on whether the 26th man, eligible for only the second game, would be a pitcher or position player, and who, and may wait until the morning to decide. One potential candidate, pitcher Austin Pruitt, went on the injured list at Triple-A Durham.

Though the weather would have allowed Wednesday’s game to start on time, the forecast for heavy rains coming around 8 p.m. and continuing the rest of the night made it seem prudent to not start, and was pretty much accurate. Cash said it he was fine with the decision.

There will be 30 minutes between games Thursday, unless the first game ends before 6:35 as the second game won’t start before 7:05.

This will be the second doubleheader for the Rays in six days on this trip, having split on Saturday vs. the Orioles, which seems like a lot of baseball. “We’ll see," Cash said. “We’re going to find out."

Some good from the bad

Winning obviously would be much better, but Cash said there can be some benefit to the younger Rays of playing in the spotlight and hostile environment of places like Yankee Stadium. “It can help us," he said. “It should help us. When there’s a lot of fans in the seats … that’s what you see in postseason baseball so hopefully this will help us. … If we’ve got to take some tough-luck losses, get hit on the face a little bit here and there to make us better for a September-October run that’d be nice."

Bullpen takes a hit, needs some hits

The focus has been on the Rays’ bullpen for being unable to hold leads, which played out yet again Tuesday. The Rays took a 3-1 lead into the sixth, and a 3-2 lead into the eighth, then lost 8-3.

The obvious answers are to either have the relievers they have pitch better or get better relievers, but Cash suggested another option — creating a larger margin for error.

“I would say it’s more or less us not scoring enough runs," he said. “We’ve got to score more runs and make that gap a little bit bigger. You’re not going to do it every night, but it seems like every time we play these guys, it’s tight. If we can get something going offensively early it would certainly be nice."

An option at shortstop?

With Matt Duffy seemingly healthy and headed to join the Rays this weekend for his long-awaited season debut, the Rays are again exploring the possibility of him playing shortstop in addition to third base when he returns.

Duffy started at shortstop for Durham on Wednesday in his second-to-last scheduled rehab game, and may do so again Thursday.

Though starting shortstop Willy Adames has improved defensively, he remains inconsistent offensively, hitting .245 overall with 10 homers, 27 RBIs and a .696 OPS. With Daniel Robertson recovering from knee surgery, Joey Wendle is the only other shortstop option, having made four starts there.

Poche’s puzzle

Rookie reliever Colin Poche was understandably down after Tuesday’s game, giving up the 3-2 lead in an ugly eighth inning that included a leadoff walk, a lead-changing two-run homer by Aaron Judge and, eventually, a grand slam to Didi Gregorius.

Though Poche’s success is predicated on getting hitters to miss his elevated fastball, he said he had to explore mixing in other pitches, such as a splitter to right-handers and a slider to lefties.

But Cash said he doesn’t need to go too far with that because his fastball is a good enough weapon, he just needs to locate it better at times. Judge, for example, homered on the seventh straight fastball he got from Poche.

“I’ll be shocked if he is ever not a fastball heavy pitcher, really, really relying on his fastball," he said. “Saying that, we’ve seen many pitchers over a lot of experience, their command gets better. We can all sharpen up our command a little bit. If you look at the scenario of how it played out, we talked about the walk, and then those lengthy at-bats.

“Maybe if you command the ball a tick better you get a ball put in play for a pop-up, a weak out, or you get a swing and miss, whatever it is. I think command will be the big factor and it will continue to improve for him.”

Numbers of the day

- 37, + 135

Rays run differential in going 5-10 against the Yankees, and in going 51-31 against all other teams.

Miscellany

* Kevin Kiermaier was in Wednesday’s lineup hitting cleanup, behind Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz and Nate Lowe. Cash said there was no specific reason outside of bunching three lefties in the top four sports; Kiermaier said it was cool because that was the only spot in the order he had not hit in during his career.

* Cash said there is still no timetable for the return of infielder Brandon Lowe, who is working out at the Trop as he is still recovering from a severely bruised right leg.

* Two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth, who has had an impressive season at Durham at the plate and in returning to the mound, went on the injured list at Triple-A Durham with a hamstring issue.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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