ST. PETERSBURG — Four batters into Monday night’s series opener against division bottom-feeder Baltimore, the Rays found themselves down two runs.
Three innings later, they were down a catcher, too.
The hosts (55-39) failed to respond to the initial adversity, falling 6-1 to the Orioles (31-62) before a Tropicana Field audience of 9,922. How well they respond to the absence of all-star Mike Zunino, pulled after three innings due to left hip flexor tightness, remains anyone’s guess.
But the initial outlook is he won’t be sidelined long, if at all.
One of the Rays’ three All-Stars, Zunino said he felt the hip tighten up while coming out of the box after his first at-bat, a grounder to shortstop. He added it already was responding well to initial treatment, indicating he could have remained in the game if necessary.
Similarly, designated hitter Yandy Diaz, who exited midway through the contest with neck spasms, also was responding well to treatment, manager Kevin Cash said.
“I want to be ahead of things, especially with how everything’s going, but I’m feeling pretty confident it’s not going to need much time,” said Zunino, whose 19 home runs lead all big-league catchers (while playing the position).
“I don’t want to be overly confident, but I’m feeling pretty good with how it’s bouncing back.”
Offsetting Zunino’s cautious optimism was left-handed starter Ryan Yarbrough’s mounting frustration.
On a night when the Orioles didn’t homer or make much hard contact, Yarbrough surrendered two first-inning runs and — after four mostly sparkling innings — surrendered four more in the sixth.
“I guess you’ve got to realize it’s a long season,” said Yarbrough (6-4), who watched his unbeaten streak end at 12 appearances and now is 2-3 (with a 5.40 ERA) at home this season. “But I’m not going to lie, it’s starting to get pretty old.”
Yarbrough’s 32-pitch first inning featured a sharp Austin Hays leadoff grounder to third base that Joey Wendle couldn’t snag, followed by consecutive bloop singles from Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle (the latter of which drove in a run). Anthony Santander’s sacrifice fly to center drove in Mancini, pushing Baltimore’s lead to 2-0.
Yarbrough needed only 12 pitches to make it through the second, which ended with consecutive strikeouts, and needed only six pitches to get through the fourth. In the sixth, however, he walked Santander after a 12-pitch at-bat to lead off the inning, then issued a single to shortstop Ramon Urias.
That set up No. 8 batter Pat Valaika’s two-out, two-run single, followed by No. 9 batter Kelvin Gutierrez’s run-scoring hit that finally chased Yarbrough after 108 pitches. Hays followed with a ground-rule double off Matt Wisler, pushing the Orioles lead to 6-0.
“Really frustrating, especially because nothing seemed like it was hit really hard today,” Yarbrough said.
“It’s just kind of how my season’s gone a little bit at times, where you have these outings where you feel like you’re throwing better than the scoreboard kind of dictates.”
The Rays, meantime, could muster nothing substantial off 29-year-old rookie right-hander Spenser Watkins (2-0), who was coaching a freshman high school team in Arizona when the Orioles signed him in February. In his third career start, Watkins allowed one run on four hits, the last one a Randy Arozarena sixth-inning RBI double. Arozarena had two hits to snap an 0-for-12 stretch.
“Good fastball, cutter, kind of a unique cutter that creates a little carry and just kept us off balance,” Cash said. “We just couldn’t get them timed up.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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