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Rays lose again, and this one wasn’t as close, 5-2

 
The Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., left, congratulates Nick Markakis on his three-run home run that opens up the game in the third inning. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
The Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., left, congratulates Nick Markakis on his three-run home run that opens up the game in the third inning. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published May 10, 2018|Updated May 10, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays spent time before Wednesday's game working on the little things, pitchers and infielders doing drills more commonly seen on the back fields in Port Charlotte.

That was only appropriate because they've been losing games — way too many games — by the slightest of margins, 12 by one run already.

That their latest loss on Wednesday was a little less tense, 5-2 to the Braves, doesn't change the story line, because some small mistakes cost them big in that game as well.

"Part of the reason we're out here doing some of these little things, little fundamentals is because those impact one-run ballgames — executing those types of plays,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "We've got to execute at the plate also when we have opportunities. And we've got to execute when we're on the mound.

"The more that we can practice in theory we're going to be better for it, and kind of change that around to where we're finding ways to win tight ballgames.''

Playing 17 one-run games in this short of a stretch to open a season is historically noteworthy — the first American League team to do so since the 2005 White Sox. Also, currently interesting: While half of the Rays games were decided by one, less than 30 percent of the others in the majors have been.

But, losing 12 almost defies logic.

"Pretty surprising,'' Cash said.

Wednesday wasn't much different.

Their offensive malaise continued, as the two runs they got on Wilson Ramos' eighth-inning single snapped a 17-inning scoreless streak and doubled the production of their two previous games. Also, they went 1-for -11 with runners in scoring position.

"A combination of being pitched tough and probably looking to do a little too much at times,'' Cash said.

They failed to make a play in the field that cost them.

After Nick Markakis reached on a slow roller second baseman Joey Wendle couldn't make a play on, first baseman Brad Miller had a chance to get the lead runner at second but mishandled the ball and had to take the out at first. A two-out single by Ender Inciarte got the run home in the second.

"Brad went over and it clanked out,'' Cash said. "That's going to happen. It's not an error. We still got an out. But ideally, looking back on it, there's a chance to get the lead runner and maybe that inning turns out a little differently. Little things like that.''

And the next inning, a small mistake by starter Ryan Yarbrough cost them big time.

Charlie Culberson and Ozzie Albies quickly rapped singles, then Yarbrough hit Ronald Acuna Jr. to load the bases, all within his first five pitches. A Freddie Freeman first-pitch sac fly got one run home, tolerable given the situation.

But that's where Yarbrough messed up, leaving a 2-and-1 fastball over the plate that Markakis launched for a three-run homer.

"I feel like pitching in general is a game of inches and stuff, so who would have known — it was supposed to be a fastball low and away,'' Yarbrough said. "So right into a left-hander's wheelhouse down and in it's kind of setting him up for that. So execute the pitch , maybe get a double play and get out of it, 2-0 game, changes the whole ballgame. That'll be something I'll definitely be thinking about the next couple days.''

The purpose of the pre-game work wasn't punitive and certainly not unprecedented, but to get the players thinking about these kind of things ahead of time, how the little things not done or messed up can come with a hefty tab.

"You try to give a message before they do the drills,'' Cash explained. "Saying that, you work so hard in spring training to check all these boxes and make sure they go through all these different drills and it's pretty easy to get into the season and just not visit it again. I don't know how productive that is when you get to July and August and those same plays still need to be made.

"We want to keep it fresh in their mind.''

Several said they are well aware. Ramos talked afterward about the fight they've shown. Miller insisted after dropping to 15-19 in losing six of nine they were on the verge of getting back on track. But he doesn't think close losses are any different.

"I think it's something people write about but it's not anything players think about,'' he said. "You win or you lose, black or white.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays