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Rays starter Rich Hill thinks it’s never too early for urgency

“These games count just as much as they would in September,” the veteran lefty says.
Rich Hill will be back on the mound to start Friday's home opener at Tropicana Field against the Yankees.
Rich Hill will be back on the mound to start Friday's home opener at Tropicana Field against the Yankees. [ GASTON DE CARDENAS | Associated Press ]
Published Apr. 7
Updated Apr. 7

Rays left-hander Rich Hill, 41, has plenty of interesting items on his resume. He’s on his 11th major-league team. He once had a perfect game broken up by a ninth-inning fielding error. He has been Pitcher of the Month in both leagues.

One quality isn’t listed.

He has a healthy dose of perspective.

Despite Wednesday afternoon’s 9-2 loss against the Red Sox at Fenway Park (which pushed the Rays’ losing streak to four games) and Hill’s starting assignment in Friday afternoon’s home opener against the Yankees at Tropicana Field, his approach will not change.

“I’m not going to veer off my game plan and go away from what I do best,” said Hill, who had a no-decision in his Rays’ debut Saturday at Miami, when he allowed single runs in each of the first four innings. “When you know what you’re good at, things are going to work out more often than not.”

As much as Hill has changed teams, he is accustomed to making adjustments. Although the Rays are only six games into the season, he doesn’t believe in making any early-season concessions.

“I don’t buy into that as an answer, that it’s early in the season (as an excuse),” Hill said. “These games count just as much as they would in September. The time is always in the present and it’s very pressing as far as making things count today. ...

“I’ve seen in the past, how you could be nine games up in September and not make the playoffs. I was part of that team (2011 Red Sox). Maybe if things were different in April, you don’t have those kinds of conversations. You realize how important every single game is. It matters.”

Improvement needed

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Joey Wendle throws to first during Wednesday's game in Boston.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Joey Wendle throws to first during Wednesday's game in Boston. [ ELISE AMENDOLA | AP ]

The six-game assessment from Rays manager Kevin Cash? The Rays need better at-bats with runners on base. And they need to clean up the defensive play to help the pitchers.

“This is a good team,” Cash said. “They’ve got a good mindset. They’re frustrated. We’re all frustrated right now. We just haven’t performed to our capabilities.

“We understand that it is a long season, but we’d certainly like to start looking a little better than we have.”

Yarbrough’s strange streak

Rays left-hander Ryan Yarbrough has served in a variety of pitching roles during his career. Now he’s the No. 2 starter. Strangely, Wednesday’s defeat at Boston was his 19th consecutive start without a victory (0-8) dating to Aug. 17, 2019. It’s the longest such streak in club history (Jason Hammel had 17 straight starts without a win in 2006-07).

But there’s a bit of an asterisk. With the Rays employing an “opener” in the past three seasons, Yarbrough often has served as the “bulk pitcher” and gets in as much work as a conventional starter.

Yarbrough, who began the season with 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a start at Miami, said he’s suited well for his current role.

“Starting is what I’m wanting to do,” Yarbrough said. “At the same time, we’re trying to win ball games. Right now, I’m just concentrating on starting and letting everything else fall into place.”

Miscellany

It was the first time the Rays had been swept in a three-game series since last summer (July 29-31 against the Orioles, which followed getting swept in a two-game series against the Braves). The Rays were swept only twice in 2019 (three-gamers against the Red Sox and Yankees) and seven other times won the series finale to avoid a sweep. … It was the 15th time in club history to be swept in a three-game series at Fenway Park. … Tuesday night’s 12-inning defeat against the Red Sox was the first time in club history that the Rays lost while holding three separate leads in the ninth inning or later, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Combining the regular season and postseason, the Rays had won 63 straight games while leading after seven innings, the longest streak in the majors. … Friday will mark the fifth time that the Yankees are the opponent in a Rays’ home opener. The Rays are 4-0 in those games, although one was in Tokyo (8-3 win in 2004). The other games at Tropicana Field were in 2009 (15-5), 2012 (7-6) and 2017 (7-3). … The Rays are at home for 17 of their next 23 games.

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