DETROIT — Asked after Sunday’s 8-7, 11-inning loss to the Tigers if the Rays were concerned that their bullpen might be tired, beat up or worn down from a season of heavy use, manager Kevin Cash answered rather succinctly.
Rather, he and others insisted, the recent struggles are simply the result of individual mistakes that happen to be lumped together, such as a reliever not throwing enough strikes, or failing to execute a pitch at a crucial moment.
“I don’t think there’s a ton of reason to be concerned,” said Andrew Kittredge, the Rays’ most consistent reliever. “I think there’s a lot of faith in the guys we’ve got down there to pull out of the little scuffle that we’re going through right now.
“Everyone’s stuff is still the same, everyone’s the same guy that they’ve been all year. There’s no reason to get concerned or worried, but definitely got to do a better job. Just the way that kind of things have been going lately We just need to get back on track.”
It hasn’t been going well, as five of the Rays’ last six losses can be attributed to the bullpen. They had leads in the seventh inning or later each time, and a number of relievers have contributed.
Sunday’s loss may have been the most excruciating, as the Rays rallied to take leads in the eighth and 10th innings but gave both away before losing in the 11th — on a walkoff walk, their first since 2017 and 10th overall.
“That’s a tough one to lose,” said outfielder Brett Phillips, who had an eventful day in his return to action.
The Rays have lost three of their last four games, dropping their American League-best record to 89-54. But they maintained a nine-game East division lead as the Red Sox lost again and were caught by the red-hot Blue Jays, who the Rays visit next.
Sunday’s bullpen meltdown came in three acts, with David Robertson, Kittredge and J.P. Feyereisen each playing leading roles.
The Rays rallied first in the eighth, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead with Phillips hitting a two-run homer and Yandy Diaz a key double.
But Robertson, the veteran free-agent signee called up on Sept. 1, gave up four straight singles to start the bottom of the eighth, and an errant throw by Phillips from rightfield allowed the tying run to score.
“(Robertson) fell behind and got in 2-0, 2-1 counts,” Cash said.
The Rays went up 7-5 with two runs in the 10th, a Diaz double scoring one and setting up the other.
But Kittredge, their unexpected All-Star, failed them for the second straight outing, after allowing a grand slam in the seventh inning Friday.
Sunday, he worked the ninth, then was a strike away from closing out the game in the 10th. He got two quick outs and two strikes on Jeimer Candelario but hung another slider and gave up a two-run, tying homer (as teams start extra innings with a runner on second).
“Very frustrating, especially coming off the heels of one the other night, too,” Kittredge said. “Same pitch, really, just a different side of the plate.”
The Rays didn’t score in the 11th, then put the game in the hands of Feyereisen, who has struggled since returning from the injured list on Aug. 30. Two one-out walks loaded the bases, and after a ground ball led to a forceout at the plate, Feyereisen went 1-1 on Robbie Grossman before throwing three straight balls to force in the winning run.
“J.P. had a little bit of an issue with the strike zone (Sunday),” Cash said, noting 14 of Feyereisen’s 21 pitches were balls.
Phillips said the team remains fully confident in the relief crew.
“They’ve been great all year,” he said. “They’ve picked us up, and we’ve got to continue down the stretch. It’s September. Guys are going to get tired. It’s one of those things that we just have to push though.
“When the playoffs come, that atmosphere, I feel like everyone’s fresh. But right now, we’ve got to get there, and if we’ve got to pick them up here and there, they’ve done that the whole year for us. So I don’t think any of us are worried or discouraged or any of that, we’ve just got to keep playing Rays baseball.”
Rays’ magic numbers
10 To make American League playoffs
11 To win East Division
Combination of wins by the Rays and losses by the No. 3 team in wild-card field (Yankees) and the second-place team in division (Red Sox)
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