ST. PETERSBURG — In baseball, it’s sacrilegious to speak of a no-hitter while it’s in progress.
So, perhaps Rays manager Kevin Cash really didn’t know starter Yonny Chirinos had worked five innings without allowing a hit. Or, maybe Cash’s steely focus on the Rays’ winning formula cannot be deterred by a chance to make history — the long-term goal of making the postseason trumps the one-day shot at a feat.
Either way, Cash didn’t hesitate to pull Chirinos in Tampa Bay’s 8-3 Memorial Day matinee win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Chirinos has started and filled extended relief roles for the Rays, seldom throwing more than 70 pitches. Monday proved to be no different, — Oliver Drake relieved the right-hander in the sixth — even though Chirinos appeared to have mastered the Jays.
“I don’t even think I knew he had a no-hitter until the fans started booing after Drake gave up a hit,” Cash said after the game. “I wasn’t too worried about it.”
Why would he worry? The team’s reliable formula of pitching (openers, relievers and workload management), defense (including a spectacular Kevin Kiermaier catch) and timely hitting now has the Rays at 32-19, 13 games above .500 and two games behind the Yankees in the AL East standing. All the aspects of the formula emerged Monday against Toronto, which has now lost 19 of its last 26 games.
Start with Chirinos, who seemed to quiet talk of Tampa Bay acquiring another starter, at least for a day. The right-hander, relying on a strong sinker and great control, kept the Blue Jays at bay, save for two walks.
“His sinker was moving so much today,” said catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “He was able to control it both to the inside of the plate and to the outside of the plate. I mean, it was filthy. That was, that was his bread and butter today.”
In winning their third consecutive game before a Tropicana Field crowd of 15,883, the Rays also relied on their bread and butter at the plate. Austin Meadows continued his hot streak, going 3-for-5 with an RBI single in the second and a two-run homer in the eighth. Outfielder Tommy Pham extended his hitting streak to 13 straight games and drove in a run. D’Arnaud had three hits and scored three times.
It helped that Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez exited after three innings because a nail pulled away from the nail bed on one of the fingers on his pitching hand. The Jays turned to rookie Jacob Waguespack, who allowed two runs and struck out seven in his major-league debut.
That kept it close, and the Rays bullpen proved a bit shaky, giving up three runs in relief. Still, the rest of the Rays’ winning formula held up, including a four-run eighth inning.
An added bonus: they smartly ran the bases. Pham turned a single into a double, and Ji-Man Choi scored from second after an errant throw into centerfield in the fourth. Kiermaier beat out an infield grounder to help spark the four-run eighth.
None of that, however, could overshadow the work of Chirinos.
He became only the fourth pitcher in franchise history to not allow a hit in a start of at least five innings. He also recorded a career high seven strikeouts. Chirinos walked two batters in the second after a pop fly hit the B-ring at the Trop and popped out of Pham’s glove in foul territory. If not for that, he might have pitched five perfect innings.
Still, he retired the last 10 batters he faced, thanks in large part to the dazzling Kiermaier catch in the fourth. The former platinum glove winner ran down a Rowdy Tellez shot, colliding into the Spectrum Mobile sign in left-center to haul in the fly ball.
With a taxed bullpen, Cash opted to start Chirinos Monday, but said he’ll continue to rely on the righthander’s versatility as a starter and long relief man — especially with starter Tyler Glasnow moving to the 60-day injured list.
Chirinos said he’s fine with that.
“I’ve been most comfortable as a starter, but this team has confidence in me to come in and handle either role,” Chirinos said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I’ve just got to prepare accordingly every time I get a call out there to pitch.”
Contact Ernest Hooper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @hoop4you.