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Rays bullpen tops Justin Verlander in a battle of opener vs. old school

The Astros pitched ace Justin Verlander on short rest. The Rays turned to the pitching approached that helped them to consecutive seasons of 90 wins or more.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Diego Castillo (63) looks to the dome after being taken out of the game in the second inning against the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 9
Updated Oct. 9

ST. PETERSBURG – After the Astros’ Game 3 loss Monday, manager A.J. Hinch announced he would start ace Justin Verlander on three days of rest in Game 4. The decision came as no surprise to Rays manager Kevin Cash. “(Verlander’s) the game’s best and, if he says he’s good to pitch, pitch him,” Cash said.

Rays batters certainly weren’t surprised Tuesday night. They jumped all over Verlander for three runs in the first, capped off with an RBI double by third baseman Joey Wendle. Willy Adames added to Verlander’s rough night with a solo home run in the fourth inning. The starter threw 84 pitches over 3⅔ innings just three days after dominating the Rays in game one.

Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos said Verlander looked good in his pregame bullpen session, but that didn’t translate to success on the mound.

“It was not his best stuff tonight,” Chirinos said of Verlander. “He was doing everything he can to keep the scoreboard close for us. It was not enough tonight.”

The Rays pitching approach: A magnum opus for the opener, an idea targeted by baseball purists when the Rays turned to it in 2018. A reliever starting a baseball game? To many, it felt like nonsense. In Tampa Bay, it helped fuel consecutive 90-win seasons and this year’s drive to the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2013.

Diego Castillo took his turn Tuesday, striking out three of the six batters he faced before yielding to Ryan Yarbrough. Yarbrough served as a bulk pitcher or a full-time starter for much of the regular season, but not on Tuesday night. He contributed his two innings, then Cash started playing the matchup game in the fourth.

He turned to Nick Anderson to get Yuli Gurriel, and later to Emilio Pagan against George Springer. In what became a full-fledged bullpen game, six Rays pitchers combined to limit Houston to one run.

Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young award winner, a pitcher used to starting games, was the one to close things out.

“We didn’t draw it up that way,” Cash said. “As soon as (Yordan) Alvarez came up with a chance to tie the game, (I) felt confident that was our best matchup.”

Snell replaced Pagan in the ninth to face AL Rookie of the Year contender Yordan Alvarez. He struck out Alvarez on a curveball in the dirt, then forced Yuli Gurriel into a groundout to end the game and earn his first career save.

“We were fairly confident that Blake was going to be pretty amped up,” Cash said. “He was. He got in the zone.”

Miscellany

* After Monday’s game drew a crowd of 32,251, largest at the Trop since a 2016 special event game, Tuesday’s ALDS game four pulled 32,178.

* Grant Balfour, a key member of the Rays breakthrough 2008 World Series team, threw out the first pitch Tuesday.

* Rays prospects pitcher Shane Baz, infielder Vidal Brujan and outfielder Josh Lowe were selected to play in Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Star Game (8 p.m., mlb.com/afl). Catcher Ronaldo Hernandez is a candidate for a final fan vote spot (http://www.mlb.com/arizona-fall-league/fall-stars-game/final-2-vote).

Contact Ryan Kolakowski at rkolakowski@tampabay.com. Follow @RyanKolakowski

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