ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb won't throw a pitch for the Rays this season, Drew Smyly may not throw another and Matt Moore is still at least a month away from throwing his first.
Somehow, despite the injuries, absences and assorted replacements, the Rays pieced together a rotation that through five weeks ranked best in the American League in ERA and opponents' average and was a primary reason they had a winning record.
But there are going to be nights like Monday, when rookie Alex Colome made quite a mess in an 11-5 loss to the Yankees.
Colome allowed eight runs on 11 hits — four of them home runs, including Alex Rodriguez's 662nd — over six long innings as the Rays left him out there, stretching out to 99 pitches, to not further tax their bullpen.
"Obviously a tough one tonight," manager Kevin Cash said.
Sitting in second place with a winning record despite all their woes, the Rays (17-16) see this as big series to close the gap on the division-leading Yankees.
Fans — on both sides of the bridges — did not, as the gathering of 10,619 was the smallest ever for the 150 Rays-Yankees games at the Trop. (And just about 700 more than saw the teams play an April 1 spring game in Tampa.)
Colome, who started the season on the disabled list himself after a spring bout with pneumonia, said he felt better Monday than in his first two starts, in which he went five innings to beat the Orioles and Red Sox.
"I feel great," he said. "I made good pitches. I miss a couple times, but I threw strikes. What can you do?"
Cash noted, and Colome later acknowledged, that the Yankees seemed to be right on his pitches, even ones he threw in unexpected counts, creating a potentially interesting subplot.
"Seemed like they were pretty much on everything Colome was throwing up there," Cash said. Also, that "his previous two outings it looked like there were some more off-balance swings than there were tonight."
Does that suggest Colome may have been tipping his pitches?
"No, I don't think so," Cash said. "You scratch your head a little bit over some things. He might not have just had the velocity separation on his fastball to his off-speed pitches like he had in his past starts."
Something was off as the Yankees teed off, including three homers by left-handers, the first in Colome's 11-game big-league career.
Colome gave up a solo homer with two outs in the first to Rodriguez. He gave up a three-run shot to Chase Headley in the fourth, curiously, Cash noted, on an unexpected first pitch changeup. He gave up a solo shot to Carlos Beltran with two outs in the fifth. And he gave up a three-run homer to Brett Gardner in the sixth.
"Colome was tough the first time through the lineup,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "and then we got to him a little bit the second time and then the third.''
As feeble as the Rays looked early against one-time Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who was 0-5, 5.45 through six starts, they came back to briefly make it interesting.
Back-to-back homers by Logan Forsythe and Joey Butler in the seventh and another Forsythe RBI in the eighth cut the gap to 9-5. But then the Yankees added on after reliever Erasmo Ramirez hit Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira delivered their fifth homer of the night.