Ryan Yarbrough rejoins Rays, but it wasn’t a good start in 5-3 loss

Lefty missed only the minimum 10 days with a groin issue but didn’t make it out of the third inning Tuesday.
Rays starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough throws during the first inning.
Rays starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough throws during the first inning. [ NICK WASS | AP ]
Published Sept. 9, 2020|Updated Sept. 9, 2020

The Rays were happy to have Ryan Yarbrough back on the mound Tuesday night in Washington, only 11 days after he had to cut short a stellar start due to groin tightness.

But they didn’t get back the Yarbrough they were hoping for.

This one struggled with command and control, fell behind often, worked at a slow pace and never got into a rhythm, giving up four runs without getting through the third inning in a 5-3 loss to the Nationals.

“He just didn’t look like himself,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Neither did the Rays overall, losing back-to-back games for the first time in a month. That dropped their American League-best record to 28-15 and reduced their East division lead to 3-1/2 games over the Blue Jays, who again beat the Yankees, leaving the New Yorkers just one-half game ahead of the fourth-place Orioles.

Rays pitchers tied a team single-game hit-by-pitch record by plunking four Nationals (good thing they weren’t Yankees), with two coming around to score. Twice the Nationals scored runs without the benefit of a hit. Rays hitters were shut out through the first five innings by Washington’s Anibal Sanchez, who came in with a 1-4, 6.48 mark, and struck out 12 times on the night.

“Definitely a tough day,” Yarbrough said.

The groin was not an issue, Yarbrough said. Nor, he insisted, and Cash seconded, was rustiness, as he took only a few days off from throwing during his injured-list stint. “You would think with 10 days off you’re not going to revert to that bad of a spot," Cash said.

But for whatever reason, Yarbrough was not sharp, and it was evident from the start.

He hit leadoff man Victor Robles, walked No. 3 hitter Trea Turner and allowed a double steal in a 23-pitch first inning that yielded a run without a hit. He gave up back-to-back, two-out doubles to Nos. 8 and 9 hitters Brock Holt and Carter Kieboom in a 20-pitch, one-run second. And he allowed four hits and hit another batter in a messy 27-pitch third that doubled the Nats' lead to 4-0.

“A little erratic, especially for me,'' Yarbrough said. “When you’re hitting guys and, especially for how I throw where you want to throw, missing over the plate, little things like that, like you saw led to some trouble.”

Yarbrough said he was never able to get in a groove and didn’t seem to have a feel for any of his pitches.

“When you hit by pitch the first guy out of the gate, you’re not really helping yourself to get in a rhythm, and then having some tough at-bats and how things unfolded the rest of the game,” he said. “Definitely something to work on, and get back into a rhythm.”

“He struggled a little bit today,” catcher Michael Perez, said, via team translator Manny Navarro. “He had trouble locating some of his pitches.”

For his short night, Yarbrough threw 70 pitches, with only 43 for strikes, allowing the four runs on six hits, a walk and the two hit batters, striking out one. He got only seven swing-and-misses, was behind from the start on nine of the 17 batters and threw four or more pitches to 10, working at a slow pace.

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“I don’t think he had his best command, he missed some spots and they made him pay for it. They capitalized, drove his pitch count way up," Cash said. “Generally, he’s one of our better-tempoed pitchers — get the ball, get on the mound, throw it and generally it’s a strike or something that they’re offering at. But he did fall behind on quite a few guys, and they kind of waited him out and got big hits when they needed them.”

The Rays' offense didn’t do very much at all, scoring all their runs in the sixth, closing to within 4-3.

Brandon Lowe blooped a single into left, Randy Arozarena was hit by a pitch and Ji-Man Choi singled for the first run, which ended the night for Sanchez. Yoshi Tsutsugo, who has been swinging better, doubled to left to make it 4-2. And with two outs, a cross-up between Wander Suero and catcher Kurt Suzuki led to a wild pitch that made it 4-3.

“It’s been a tough couple days,” shortstop Willy Adames said. “We’re not used to seeing the Nationals pitchers, not everybody knows all the pitchers, it’s not like we’re facing them all the time. But that’s not an excuse. We couldn’t pick it up against the pitchers today and (Monday). We have to be better.”

Cash is hoping they are soon.

“Some nights, some days, some series, you have a bunch of guys seeing the ball really well and having good at-bat after good at-bat and hitting balls hard,” he said. “Right now, these last two days, we can’t find any consistency, any rhythm in our lineup. We’ve got a handful of guys that are just not not being themselves for whatever reason. They’re searching for it, and that’s going to happen throughout the course of any season.”

The Rays had a chance in the ninth when Adames singled with one out off Daniel Hudson. Cash sent up Nate Lowe to pinch-hit for Perez, thinking Lowe might be able to turn around a fastball, but he just missed on one and flied out, then Austin Meadows struck out to end it.

“It was a tough game,” Adames said. “We couldn’t put it together to come back for a win.”