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Sudden slump raises question: Which version of Rays is real?

Daniel Robertson swings through strike three in the second inning of the Rays’ third straight blowout loss in Seattle.
Published Jun. 5, 2017

SEATTLE — Given their feeble showing during a weekend sweep by the Mariners that ended with Sunday's 7-1 loss, the obvious question was what happened to the Rays, but manager Kevin Cash summed that up pretty well.

"We've been beat from the bottom of the first on Friday until now," Cash said. "I guess the only good thing is that we're getting out of here. They beat us in every facet — outpitched us, outhit us, outdefensed us, outmanaged us. Everything. We need to get back home."

Certainly the extended and intense road trip — a 6,400-mile, 10-day journey from Tampa to Minnesota, Texas and Seattle then back — that ended 4-5 was taxing. "Probably one of the worst trips I've personally been a part of," starter Chris Archer said, "and it's going to take some time to catch up."

After a promising and inspiring start, taking two of three in Minnesota including last Sunday's marathon then another two in Texas with character-building comebacks, they pretty much were useless in Seattle, outscored 28-7 in the three games.

"It's unfortunate, we didn't really give ourselves a chance in this series," Evan Longoria said. "We weren't very good. … Top to bottom, it wasn't a good series. We potentially ran out of gas after some good wins."

RAYS JOURNAL: Avoiding a no-hitter in loss to Mariners is a very small consolation.

And that leads to the bigger and more pressing question:

Are these Rays (29-30) more the team that looked pretty good in rolling through six straight nonlosing series against the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees, Angels, Twins and Rangers, or the one that looked so bad this weekend against the middling Mariners?

Archer, among others, insisted it is the former, that "that was a glimpse of who we can be." But there have been enough signs of concern — a dropoff in starting pitching, an offense that is too extremely hot and cold, repeated defensive lapses — to think it could end up being the latter.

Pondering that question got us thinking about some others:

• What are the Rays going to do about that rotation that, except for Archer, looked, in Cash's words, "to be gassed a bit?"

Expect them to dip into the minor leagues this week and bring up a young arm, such as Jose De Leon or Jake Faria, to give the others some rest.

Archer said he wants to stay on his regular schedule, and he'll face the White Sox on Tuesday with an extra day's rest anyway. But if they drop a starter in Wednesday, they'd give Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb and Erasmo Ramirez all an extra day.

TOPKIN'S TAKEAWAYS: Beat writer Marc Topkin's takeaways from Sunday's Ray-Mariners game.

Plus they are banking on Matt Andriese, who left Tuesday's start in Texas with a groin strain, returning for Saturday's doubleheader. If so, they can start him and Ramirez and use the 26th man they are allowed as an extra reliever, with Archer starting Sunday.

Cash, by the way, had a point: Except for Archer, the Rays didn't have a starter go more than 52/3 innings on the road trip.

• How are they going to use Brad Miller?

Miller's shaky showing at second base Friday in his return from the disabled list — missing or misplaying three balls — illustrated the dilemma.

Rookie Daniel Robertson showed during Miller's absence he is a much more reliable option defensively, which is obviously important to a pitching-first team that plays a lot of close games.

So for the Rays to go back to playing Miller every day, they need to feel they are getting more offensively.

And if it's the Miller who swatted 30 homers last season, with a .243 average and 81 RBIs, they could live with that. But this Miller is hitting .194 with two homers and 14 RBIs, and that makes it hard to justify playing him.

Cash sat Miller on Saturday and may have done so Sunday against a lefty starter had Robertson not been needed at third with Longoria DHing.

The thing is, they don't really have any other place to play Miller. Not at first, where Logan Morrison is thriving. Not in the outfield. And not at DH, as they have more productive lefties in Corey Dickerson and Colby Rasmus. About the only other option would be to DH Miller against right-handers and play Rasmus in right in place of Steven Souza Jr.

Being limited to occasional or platoon duty won't go over well with Miller, but he doesn't have much of a case to squawk. Actually, he got ticked off when the Rays moved him from shortstop to first last season and hit better, so maybe this will get him going?

• Can they keep Tim Beckham in the lineup when Matt Duffy returns?

First, Duffy's return from heel surgery, through no fault of his own, looks to be delayed until the end of the month, and maybe even the All-Star break.

But Beckham — who Sunday batted cleanup for the first time — has shown enough, hitting .264 with nine homers and 27 RBIs, to earn a chance to keep playing somewhat regularly. He'll still get some time at short as Duffy won't play every day, and he could get some time in left, at second (ahead of Miller) or even slide into the DH/backup first base role that Rickie Weeks isn't handling well with shaky D, a .223 average and 46 strikeouts in 94 at-bats.

Just asking?

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

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