1. Rays

Jake Odorizzi returns to form as Rays beat A's 3-2 (w/video)

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi works against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, July 17, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) OAS105
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi works against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, July 17, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) OAS105
Published Jul. 18, 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jake Odorizzi made a big change to get to his old self.

Odorizzi ditched his windup after the first batter Monday to work exclusively out of the stretch and delivered a stellar seven-inning performance reminiscent of past success in the Rays 3-2 win over the A's.

"I just felt more comfortable, I don't know why,'' Odorizzi said. "I felt everything was more crisp, and I was able to get the ball down in the zone better.''

The results were certainly impressive, as Odorizzi allowed only one hit – a home run, naturally – as were the residuals after he battled through an uncharacteristically inconsistent first half.

"It was just nice to get back to what I feel I'm capable of doing,'' he said. "It was a frustrating first half, that's for sure. It kind of eases those struggles when I do what I'm used to doing. …

"It was nice to get back to being me.''

Odorizzi, who plans to stick with the stretch approach for his next start, got some help Monday.

A warming Evan Longoria drove in two of the runs, with a fielder's choice grounder and his 14th homer of the season, after extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Steven Souza Jr. got the Rays started with his 19th homer.

Tommy Hunter worked the eighth and Alex Colome the ninth, allowing a run on a double, a ground out and a wild pitch, before logging his American League leading 27th save.

The rolling Rays improved to 50-44 with the win, matching their season high of six games over .500, while expanding their AL wild-card lead to 1 ½ games over the Yankees and moving to within two games of the East-leading Red Sox. That's the closet the Rays have been to first place this late in a season since Aug. 26, 2013

To get a sense of how bad Odorizzi had been going, he'd given up three or more earned runs in in his last seven starts – every time he took the mound in June and July.

Also, Monday marked the first time he got through seven innings since June 19, and just the fourth time in 17 starts for the season he worked more than six.

Though the Rays came into play Monday with a 3.97 starters' ERA that was second best in the AL, they need more consistency, and success, from Odorizzi to make the postseason run they are now eyeing.

"I know there's been a lot of talk about him not performing like maybe he's shown in the past, so that was really nice to see,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "I'm happy for him, because we're going to need him.''

Odorizzi did a lot of work on mechanics during the time between starts over the break, specifically to get taller on the mound so he could get the ball down more. He briefly considered starting the game in the stretch since it felt more comfortable then opted not to, butwhen he walked leadoff man Matt Joyce, he decided it was time to make the switch.

"I'll continue to do it; there's no reason not to after a successful outing,'' he said. "Sometimes you need to simplify things and get back to the basics, and there's nothing more basic that coming set and throwing the ball.''

If figured that the only hit off Odorizzi was a homer as it was the team-record extending and MLB-season high 14th straight game in which he was taken deep, and 21st homer overall.

Odorizzi is hoping to draw on his 2016 experience, when he went 3-5, 4.47 before the break and 7-1, 2.71 after.

The Rays took the lead when Souza led off the second with a homer, his 19th. They made it 2-0 in the third with some help, Mallex Smith drawing a one-out walk, taking second on a wild pitch, going to third on an infield single by Corey Dickerson that took a fortunate bounce off the mound, then scoring on Longoria's fielder's choice grounder. After Khris Davis homered in the fourth, the Rays pushed the lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Longoria delivered his 14th homer.

While several Rays had a hand in the win, second baseman Tim Beckham put the Rays in a bad spot. Beckham carried his disagreement over a called third strike in the fourth onto the field, still barking at home plate ump Lance Barrett as he took his position, and got ejected before play resumed.

With Brad Miller at DH, the Rays had to put veteran corner infielder Trevor Plouffe at second, where he had not played since 2012.

Cash said he didn't see what happened between Beckham and Barrett but it caught him off guard since Beckham hadn't said anything in the dugout during the rest of the inning.