ST. PETERSBURG — Thursday began with such promise for the Rays, Shane McClanahan opening his first regular-season appearance by striking out Oakland leadoff man Mark Canha with a 100.5 mph fastball that drew raves and wows across the Internet.
But the day ended in disappointment and frustration — as too many have — as the Rays lost again, 3-2.
McClanahan worked a solid four innings, striking out four of the first five batters he faced while allowing two runs. Austin Meadows snapped an 0-for-14 slump to get the Rays one run, and Brandon Lowe hit a game-tying homer in the fifth.
But the Rays (13-13) lost it in the ninth.
Diego Castillo, working a third straight day, walked Jed Lowrie with one out. Then Brett Phillips, known for occasional big hits but consistently excellent outfield defense, misplayed a Matt Chapman drive to right that allowed the decisive run to score.
“I don’t know what the catch probability was on it, but I believe that I should have caught it,” Phillips said. “It’s frustrating that it ended like that, but that’s the game. Come back here tomorrow.
“It was one of those ones that took off. I believe I got a good jump on it, but I might have misread it through the play. I should have caught it. I thought it might have tipped off my glove. ... It’s frustrating, because I know deep down that we have that same play 10 more times, I catch it 10 times. So, of course it’s that one that affects the outcome of a game.”
Though Phillips’ misplay led to the decisive run, the Rays’ ongoing offensive struggles remain the more relevant narrative.
They have scored only 17 runs through the first seven games of the homestand, largely because they have only two — two! — hits in their last 44 at-bats with a runner in scoring position going back to Friday. That includes 0-for-6 in such situations on Thursday, when they left eight men on.
“Hopefully, we’re going to stop talking about this soon,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I think we will. But the offense is just having a rough go right now. We’ve been pitched well, pitched tough.
“But, saying that, we’ve got a good offense. We’re just in a little bit of a rut that we’ve got to find a way to get out. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. But trust that as a group we can.”
Phillips said the A’s do deserve some credit, but the onus is on the Rays to do more.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to put in the work,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to try and make things happen, get runners on base, and when the home run ball’s not there, we’ve got to play a little more small ball.”
They need to do something, because there isn’t much more they can get from their pitching staff, which has been plagued by injuries and restructured on the fly with the call-ups of young guns Josh Fleming, Luis Patino (who worked two innings Thursday), Brent Honeywell (who was sent back down) and McClanahan.
Consider this: The Rays have allowed three runs or fewer in six straight games and went only 3-3.
“We’ve got to start giving our pitchers a little bit of support here,” Cash said. “We’ve asked a lot of our pitchers, and some young ones, and they’ve really come up in a big way for us and just kept us in every single ballgame.”
McClanahan — who made history in October as the first pitcher to make his big-league debut in the postseason — did his part, allowing one run when he gave up three straight hits in the third and another in the fourth on a two-out, two-strike homer by Chapman.
“I felt fine,” McClanahan said. “I made some good pitches, made some mistakes. Obviously, it’s a good starting point to work forward from.”
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