NEW YORK — Wins have been hard to come by for the Rays at Yankee Stadium. And during their recent struggles in the Bronx, the problem hasn’t been as much getting a lead as it’s been preserving it.
Take Tuesday night’s 6-3 loss to the Yankees, which sealed Tampa Bay’s 14th series loss in their past 15 trips to Yankee Stadium.
The Rays held a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning, when Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled lefty bulk man Ryan Yarbrough just 42 pitches into his outing after he had retired nine of the 10 batters he faced.
Cash then turned to right-handed reliever Chaz Roe, who has struggled with his command all season and proceeded to give up the lead and then some as he allowed hits to five of the first six batters he faced.
“I know it’s a difficult decision,” Cash said. “It’s a fair question, just basically where Yarbs had gotten us one time through the lineup. They’re heavy right-handed. I thought that was a good spot for Chaz to come in. Obviously, I know that it didn’t work out the way we would have liked. ... They found holes. Sometimes they win by hitting the ball out of the park, sometimes they win by finding holes. A bunch of good hitters. It was an unfortunate inning for us.”
The result was a second loss in the Bronx to start this week’s important three-game series for first place in the American League East.
If the Rays lose Wednesday’s afternoon finale, they’ll leave New York trailing the Yankees by 3 1/2 games, their biggest deficit all season.
Tuesday’s game marked the 32nd time in their past 45 games at Yankee Stadium that they’ve owned a lead. They are 12-33 in those 45 games.
Cash’s decision to give Yarbrough an early hook was a peculiar one. After the game, he explained trying to ensure Yarbrough left the game on a high note, while hoping he could do the same with Roe by putting him into the game to face the bottom of the Yankees order with the bases empty.
“It’s a fair question after the fact for sure,” Cash said. “I can totally see both sides of it. We decided to be aggressive there. Yarbs is another guy, talking with Chaz, (we’re) trying to get him on a roll. He had done a lot of good things. So there’s that side of it also, but I can certainly understand anybody second guessing the decision.”
Roe created his own trouble and allowed three runs over 2/3s of an inning.
After Yarbrough induced an inning-opening ground out from Didi Gregorius — the only left-handed hitter in the Yankees lineup — to start the fifth, Cash pulled the left-hander so Roe could face four-straight right-handed batters, all of whom singled against him.
“Once I got Didi out and saw that he came out, I kind of understood the thought process,” Yarbrough said. "It’s not the first time that this happens and it’s not going to be the last time, especially during the opener. You’ve kind of seen it with how I did last year and sometimes you see it with guys this year, and it’s just all part of it.”
“It’s not really my call on that, obviously," Yarbrough said of being pulled. "All I focus on is when I have the ball in my hand and just go and get outs. When the manager decides to make the move, just try to take it from his perspective and realize we’re just trying to win a ballgame right there and bring a guy in like Chaz that has had a lot of success against right-handed hitters, so just trying to hand the baton of and get us the win.”
Roe entered and gave a soft single to center by Gleyber Torres. Cameron Maybin followed with another single, prompting a visit from pitching coach Kyle Snyder as right-hander Oliver Drake began warming up.
D.J. LeMahieu then hit a low slider over the plate into centerfield for a tying single, and Luke Voit took a first-pitch hanging slider to left to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. After Roe struck out Aaron Hicks on a slider, Gary Sanchez added an insurance run with an RBI single.
“What we’ve seen (from Roe) in the past is strike-to-ball slider,” Cash said. “He might have left a couple sliders in the zone, but it’s such a good pitch that when they reel off four or five hits in a row, you kind of scratch your head a little bit because we knew how effective that pitch has been for him and for us.”
The Yankees didn’t necessary pound Roe. Of the five hits Roe allowed, three had exit velocities of 82 mph or less.
Roe threw 21 sliders in his 28-pitch outing, and four of the five Yankees hits off Roe were on sliders.
“That’s been my bread and butter since Day 1,” Roe said of his slider. "I’m going to get beat with my best stuff. ... “They were able to get enough wood on the ball for the bloops to fall in.”
On May 29, Roe has a 2.20 ERA and was on a run of 16 scoreless outings in 17 appearances. But in six June appearances, Roe owns a 15.43 ERA, allowing eight earned runs over 4 2/3 innings. Though that small sample size is telling, Roe said last week that he has struggled with his command — both his fastball and his slider — all season.
The Rays cut the lead to 4-3 in the seventh on Travis d’Arnaud’s RBI double, but they stranded the tying run on second with no outs. Maybin homered off Oliver Drake in the bottom have of the seventh to get that run back, and Edwin Encarnacion, playing his second game as a Yankee, blasted a solo homer to the opposite field off Andrew Kittredge in the eighth.
The Rays recorded six hits in their first three innings against Yankees starter J.A. Happ. Three consecutive singles from the bottom of the order netted their first run on Mike Zunino's run-scoring single, and Avisail Garcia's RBI single in the third gave the Rays an early 2-1 lead.
Ryne Stanek yielded a run in the first on Sanchez’s sac fly, but there could have been more damage since Stanek allowed the first two hitters he faced reach base.
Yarbrough allowed just one hit, a Voit single, in his 3 1/3 scoreless innings, keeping a dangerous Yankees offense at bay by keeping the ball on the ground.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.