The Rays won another game and lost another pitcher to injury.
The good: They overcame a dazzling seven-inning start by Marlins fire-balling phenom Sixto Sanchez and rallied late for a 2-0 victory Friday in Miami.
The bad but, relatively speaking, maybe not horrible: Ryan Yarbrough, equally effective in his own crafty way, left in the seventh due to tightness in his left groin.
That it wasn’t an arm injury — the Rays already have 10 key pitchers sidelined — and that it was something Yarbrough has had, and managed, previously was encouraging. But there is also concern the left-hander could miss some time, which won’t be clear until further evaluation Saturday.
“I feel like it’s nothing crazy, but it’s all going to depend on how you wake up (Saturday) and how you feel,” Yarbrough said during a Zoom video call. “My first instinct is kind of (that) it didn’t seem like anything as bad as I’ve done it before.”
The Rays won for the 10th time in their past 12 games, improving to 22-11 and extending their American League East lead to four games over the Yankees, who were swept in a doubleheader by the Mets.
Yarbrough’s injury added to what already had been an eventful day in Miami as the Rays returned to the field after Thursday’s home game with the Orioles was postponed as part of the sportswide acknowledgement of social injustice and systemic racism issues.
Starting catcher Mike Zunino was scratched from the lineup after feeling tightness in his lower back and left oblique area during batting practice. The Rays should find out Saturday morning if he will need to be placed on the injured list. During the game, they added an experienced lefty to the injury-depleted bullpen, acquiring Cody Reed from the Reds for minor-league pitcher Riley O’Brien.
The Rays were shut out and shut down for seven innings by Sanchez, the 22-year-old prized prospect acquired from the Phillies in the J.T. Realmuto deal. Tampa Bay finally broke through with single runs in the eighth, on a Yandy Diaz single, and in the ninth, thanks to another clutch hit by catcher Michael Perez.
Sanchez, making his second big-league start, was overpowering, striking out 10 and hitting 100 mph more than a half-dozen times in a 92-pitch showcase, allowing six hits, all singles.
“We had a reason why we didn’t hit, the other guy on the mound,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That was some impressive stuff. He threw strikes. He was able to land offspeed pitches. He established a fastball, then had kind of a wipeout changeup. Pretty talented pitcher, for sure.”
Though the contrast in style between the power righty and the crafty lefty couldn’t have been more stark, Yarbrough matched Sanchez’s effectiveness with a mix of cutters and changeups that clocked in the 70s and 80s, allowing only four hits with no walks and five strikeouts over the first six innings.
“I didn’t realize how quickly the game was moving there,” Yarbrough said. “It was kind of very Mark Buehrle-esque, just attacking the zone. That was my favorite pitcher growing up; you’d kind of see those fast-paced moving games. So that was pretty fun. He was throwing 100, and I wasn’t, so a nice little contrast there.”
The pitching duel was impressive, until the Marlins went to their bullpen in the eighth and the Rays went ahead.
Austin Meadows singled off reliever Richard Bleier, moved up on a groundout and scored when Diaz, who had been getting most of his hits to the right side of the field, pulled a single to left off Brad Boxberger, the former Rays All-Star.
“I was able to finally get a pitch that I could pull, and it felt good to hit it in that direction,” Diaz said via team translator Manny Navarro.
They added another in the ninth when Joey Wendle reached on an infield single, went to second on a groundout and scored on a single by Perez, a late addition to the lineup.
“It was a really, really well-pitched game,” Cash said. “Encouraged we were able to get one across, then Mikey Perez gave us some breathing room.”
Yarbrough got two quick outs in the seventh and threw one pitch to the third batter, a ball, when it was obvious something didn’t feel right and his night ended after 80 pitches.
Cash said it wasn’t a surprise, that they knew Yarbrough had had issues, and he drew a distinction between why Yarbrough walked off the mound. “He didn’t come out of the game hurt, he came out of the game he just didn’t want to overexert it,” Cash said. “That’s a good sign.”
Yarbrough said he just wanted to do the right thing and avoid making it worse.
“Kind of felt it a little bit those last couple pitches,” he said. “Was just trying to be smart, not trying to make anything really worse ... especially where we were at in the game and kind of where we’re at as a team.”
Pete Fairbanks finished the eighth and worked the ninth for his team-leading fourth win, and Diego Castillo, eventually, finished for his second save.
“It was big for us,” Cash said.
Being in first place with 27 games left, they’re all big.