ST. PETERSBURG — Sometime during Wednesday's near-no-hit 8-1 loss to Cleveland, leftfielder Joey Butler said the Rays almost felt bullied as their offensive struggles reached a never-before-seen low.
Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco's high-90s fastball and wipeout breaking ball led to 61/3 perfect innings, before Butler drew a walk. So when Butler laced a two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to end Carrasco's no-hit bid, Butler felt a little surge for a sputtering offense trying to find any sort of spark.
"Relief," Butler said.
That relief was the only positive from an eighth loss in the past 10 games — one that dropped the Rays (42-38) out of first place in the American League East. The bigger story was the continued futility at the plate that hit historic levels.
In four of their past seven games, the Rays have failed to get a man on base through at least the first five innings. No major-league offense has ever matched the Rays' current streak of three games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Cleveland's Danny Salazar carried a perfect game into the sixth Tuesday, and Cody Anderson threw 61/3 perfect innings Monday.
"We're pressing a little bit collectively as a team," said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. "It's just tough right now."
And facing Carrasco only made things tougher.
The 28-year-old unveiled a wicked slider that he didn't really show in their meeting two weeks ago. His fastball added more problems for a lineup that has as many combined hits this series (six) as Cleveland's Jason Kipnis has by himself.
"He throws so hard," Butler said, "if you think for a split second, you're beat."
And Carrasco beat the Rays often, in front of an announced crowd of 11,394 at Tropicana Field. His 124 pitches included 30 swings-and-misses, and he struck out 13 of the 29 batters he faced. Until the ninth, the Rays knocked only two balls out of the infield.
"When you're running into a lineup that has been scuffling a little bit, those things have a chance of happening," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Carrasco said no one talked to him in the dugout as he tried to pitch the sixth no-hitter ever thrown against the Rays. Butler broke up his perfect game when he worked an eight-pitch walk.
When Carrasco went ahead 0-and-2 to Butler in the ninth, he was one strike away from Cleveland's first no-hitter in 34 years.
"I'm pretty sure he was a lot more nervous than I was," Butler said.
Butler — who had the past two days completely off to regroup from a 2-for-17 slump — hit a changeup over a leaping Kipnis at second. Carrasco said all he could do was laugh. Cash had a different reaction.
"I say it all the time," Cash said. "It's a good thing Joey Butler can hit."
Eventually, the Rays need the rest of their lineup to start doing the same.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.