ST. PETERSBURG — Ryan Yarbrough knew the feeling.
He gave up hits to the first two Tigers he faced Saturday, then a three-run homer after a strikeout and a fielder’s choice groundout. He didn’t start the second inning any better, allowing another home run.
After two of the roughest outings of his career, this one wasn’t going any better.
“I mean, 100 percent,” he said. “I feel like that my biggest thing was, ‘Okay, get out and get off on a good foot here.’ And then it didn’t.”
The four runs he allowed to the first seven hitters proved to be too much,. The Rays couldn’t do much offensively overall or conjure up another rally in the ninth after a promising start, and ended up on the wrong end of the 4-3 final.
Though they lost the game, there was some sense they may have regained a key weapon for their rotation or bullpen heading into the postseason. Yarbrough rebounded from that rocky start to work somewhat impressively through six innings, retiring his last 13 batters and 15 of 16.
“It was encouraging,” manager Kevin Cash said. “You want to see guys performing well here at the end of the season. Yarbs has admittedly had a tough go here lately, but I do feel like he did some good things.
“The strike throwing, the pitch efficiency — I think he threw 24 pitches in the first inning; the hard hits came quickly. But he was able to keep his pitch count (down) in order and get us deep in a ballgame and keep us in the ballgame, which was very encouraging. It’s gone sideways a couple times on him here as of late, and he didn’t allow that to happen.”
Still it was a disappointing day for the Rays, especially coming off Friday’s stirring comeback win.
The loss dropped the Rays’ American League-best record to 92-57 and stalled their march toward the postseason for a third straight year, with a potential for two celebrations this week at Tropicana Field.
They hold a 7 ½-game East division lead over the Red Sox with 13 to play, with a magic number of six to clinch. And with the Yankees losing, the Rays’ magic number for a playoff spot went down to five.
Also of some concern, they played without centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who was placed on the COVID-19-related injured list (he tested negative), and infielder Taylor Walls, who was sent home sick and is undergoing further testing.
On the plus side, the game drew a Trop season-high crowd of 22,921; top starter Shane McClanahan is coming off the injured list to pitch Sunday; and top pitching prospect Shane Baz has been called up and will make his debut Monday.
Yarbrough gave immense credit to catcher Mike Zunino for helping him refine his game plan as they went, making better use of his changeup and improving the effectiveness of his cutter. And to the Rays defenders, who made a series of dazzling plays behind him.
After allowing 14 runs on 18 hits over just 4 1/3 innings combined in his last two outings, Yarbrough needed something to change.
By the end of the day, that included his outlook after a rough couple weeks.
“It’s definitely a lot, something to get some momentum off of,” Yarbrough said. “If anything, it’s just a bad feeling of you feel like you let your team down on those last couple outings. ... Especially in September, this time of year, it’s never ideal.
“So I feel like that’s the biggest thing, just the feeling and the cues I feel like I was able to figure out later in the game, and just continue to strive toward that going forward.”
Rays’ magic numbers
5 To make American League playoffs
6 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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