The way the Rays broke out of their offensive malaise and produced over the final four games of the recent homestand was certainly encouraging. But a day off, as well as a change of scenery and opponents can often disrupt that flow, and stop the momentum.
The Rays took their hit show on the road Tuesday, crushing a season-high five home runs in beating the Orioles 13-6. Their fifth straight win matched a season high.
Brett Phillips and Austin Meadows each hit three-run homers in the second inning; Mike Zunino delivered a pair of two-run blasts; and Ji-Man Choi added a two-run shot in the eighth as the Rays ran their five-game total to 44 runs. By comparison, in their previous 13 games they scored a total of 45.
“Very encouraging,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The three-run homers, they work wonders. We got two in one inning.
“We’re happy with the way the guys are swinging the bat. Good for them. We’ve answered enough questions about the quiet offense days. It’s nice to answer a lot of questions about when they really do the damage that they’re capable of.”
All nine starters rapped hits, eight scored runs, five had RBIs, as the Rays (24-19) finished one run and two hits shy of their season highs.
“It’s been great energy after those four wins, and it carried over through the off day,” Phillips said. “We came out hot, and we’ve got to continue to do so.”
They got six in the second — making it two of three games with a six-run inning, their second most productive of the season — on the three-run homers by Phillips and Meadows. They made it 8-0 in the third on Zunino’s first blast.
But as much as the story was the offense, the game essentially was won in the fourth, when Andrew Kittredge relieved struggling starter Luis Patino — who got only 10 outs, and due to a lack of command needed 82 pitches to do so. The O’s cut the lead to 8-4, but Kittredge kept them from getting closer in what was the highest-leverage moment.
“Without a doubt,” Cash said. “That’s why he’s so valuable. Valuable, versatile and really good. He can pitch in any situation. Nothing fazes him.”
Kittredge got the Rays through the fifth, then Collin McHugh followed with two perfect innings. By then the Rays had extended the lead to 11-4, including Zunino’s second two-run homer.
Zunino ended the night with a team-high 10 homers, already his most in three seasons with the Rays, and is on track to match or surpass his career high of 25 with Seattle in 2017.
Zunino said he’s doing more by trying to do less, hunting specific pitches and sticking to the mechanics he worked on adjusting over the last two offseasons. “I think it all comes down to a trust thing,” he said.
Cash said he sees a more relaxed and comfortable hitter. “A guy that’s confident right now,” he said. “He’s confident in his ability, which he should be because there aren’t as many guys that can hit as hard as he can. I think he simplified some things. And it’s really nice to see it pay off for him. He’s obviously in a very good spot. We’re thrilled with Z’s overall play.”
As much as the Rays struggled offensively through much of the first six weeks of the season, they are enjoying the breakthrough they insisted was just a matter of time.
“Once you break out of a skid like that, it’s one of those (things) that the floodgates sort of open,” Zunino said. “Guys stayed positive through it, and now guys are feeding off each other in the other aspect. So it’s one of those things where it’s fun to be there.”
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