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Rays snap four-game skid as Charlie Morton delivers against Tigers

Veteran pitcher gives Rays exactly what they need with seven strong innings; Austin Meadows (who else) sparks offense.
Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton may not be Tampa Bay's ace, but on Wednesday he proved to be the stopper, helping the team snap a four-game losing streak. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton may not be Tampa Bay's ace, but on Wednesday he proved to be the stopper, helping the team snap a four-game losing streak. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Published Jun. 6, 2019
Updated Jun. 6, 2019

DETROIT – There were lots of ways for the Rays to snap the four-game losing streak that had tarnished their early season success and raised questions about where they were now headed.

The simplest was a strong outing Wednesday by veteran starter Charlie Morton.

And that’s exactly what they got.

Seven solid innings.

Zero runs.

Five measly hits.

Eight strikeouts.

And one very much needed win, 4-0 over the Tigers.

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“A perfect guy in a perfect spot for us,’’ catcher Mike Zunino said. “And was able to give us a great outing.”

The way Rays manager Kevin Cash saw it going into the game was that a typically strong Morton showing would allow the offense to find some traction, and the defense to work behind him. Morton obliged, operating in command and control, mixing his pitches effectively and working efficiently. He threw only 83 pitches to get his 21 outs, and he, naturally, didn’t think he did all that much special in moving to 7-0, 2.30.

“I try not to put too much importance on one start, or any one particular start or any strand of starts,’’ he said. “I try to make my goals really attainable. I go out there, throw strike one, get the first out. And then I just do that throughout the whole game. I’m really not looking at the gravity of a situation, be that coming off losses or you name it. Playoff baseball is a little different. That’s gotten to me a good bit. Or a game late in the season when you are in a fight for the division of something like that.

“But this is more like pedestrian boring me going out there and just trying to do my job. And I do mean that.’’

That’s not to imply Morton didn’t think it was important that the Rays end their skid before it grew. Or that he wasn’t pleased with what he did. Just that it was in context.

”We’re a good team and having that belief is what’s important,’’ he said. “Obviously you don’t want to lose multiple games. You don’t want to go on losing streaks. I think we are able to maintain that mentality really well. Especially for a young team.’’

In ending the skid, the Rays improved to 36-23, with a chance to win another series in Thursday’s matinee. Tampa Bay also notched its sixth shutout of the season.

Morton did have some things he was happy about. He talked a lot before the start about wanting to pitch deeper in games, to work the seven full innings he considers the measure of a good starter. And he did that for the second straight game after not in his first 11.

Also that he didn’t walk anyone, which has been another point of focus.

“As far as being pleased, I don’t know,’’ he said. “I’m not sitting here patting myself on the back: 'Good job, Charlie. You did great. You didn’t walk anybody.’ That’s probably also a reflection of me just being kind of pessimistic and harder on myself.’’

That was fine because his mates raved about him.

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“He was outstanding,’’ Cash said. “That’s what a veteran pitcher can bring, kind of that calming effect and really navigate through their lineup really, really successfully.’’

Morton could have gone deeper, but with no days off to get him extra rest for at least the next three turns through the rotation, Cash said it was wise to keep the workload light. The Rays batters did what they could to help, with a couple of clutch hits.

Austin Meadows, who came into the game leading the American League in average (.356), slugging percentage (.656) and OPS (1.087), got them started in the third, lacing a ball to center that he turned into a triple, then an errant relay throw allowed him to come around and score.

"He does it every night,'' Cash said. "Nothing new.''

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The Rays added on to make it 3-0 in the fifth.

With Yandy Diaz aboard after a one-out walk, former Tiger Avisail Garcia, who homered in his return to the lineup Tuesday, pulled a breaking ball into the leftfield corner, and third base coach Rodney Linares told Diaz to keep running home. Ji-Man Choi followed with a single and Garcia raced home to make it 3-0.

They added a run in the eighth on another Detroit error.

Pinch-runner Guillermo Heredia was on second (after a Zunino walk, Christian Arroyo fielder’s choice and a Meadows walk) and scored when Tigers second baseman Harold Castro threw wildly past first trying for a double play.

Was it important to get the streak snapped before it grew?

“Very,’’ Cash said.

And they had the right man for the job.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.