ST. PETERSBURG — The outcome was ugly, but these type of games — where Brett Phillips coming off the mound to make a running and sliding catch is the only highlight — are going to happen, even to a team that opened the season with three crisp wins in a row.
But it is the circumstances the Rays find themselves in after the 13-2 loss to Oakland that are concerning.
Specifically the status of their starting pitching.
Luis Patino left Monday’s game after just 13 pitches with a left oblique strain that, depending on the severity, could keep him out for two months. Ryan Yarbrough already had gone on the injured list earlier Monday due to left groin tightness. Plus Shane Baz is shelved until at least late May because of a spring elbow issue.
Those three being hurt — although Yarbrough supposedly will only miss a week — leaves the Rays a bit short on starters.
“We’ve had two starters go down pretty quick lately,” manager Kevin Cash said. “But we’ll regroup and we’ve got enough pitching that should be able to cover us.”
Or at least they hope they should.
Tommy Romero, a 24-year-old with 13 games above the Double-A level, is being called up to make his big-league debut and start Tuesday.
Josh Fleming, who made the roster as a multi-inning reliever, is slated to step into the rotation and start, or work behind an opener, Thursday. The Rays, being cautious due to the abbreviated spring and for other health reasons, want to give Drew Rasmussen, who was lined up to pitch Thursday, and the other starters an extra day’s rest.
Plus, the bullpen is also short.
With Patino’s early departure, and an ineffective and shorter than hoped outing by Chris Mazza, who allowed eight runs (six earned) in allowing seven hits (three homers) over three innings, the Rays had to use three other relievers — J.P. Feyereisen, Ryan Thompson and Jason Adam — before bringing in Phillips, who worked the final two innings.
And there is a possibility JT Chargois is headed to the injured list Tuesday, which could lead to Ralph Garza Jr., who was at Triple-A after being claimed off waivers from Boston last week, being called up.
It all seems to add up to bit of an early test.
“I don’t know,” Cash said. “It feels like we’ve kind of grown accustomed to that over the years. We’ll mix and match, we’ll rely on our depth and try to find ways to get creative to help us prevent runs from scoring.”
They certainly didn’t do that Monday.
Patino was limited to two spring outings due to some shoulder discomfort, but he said he felt great warming up and starting the game.
But after a groundout, a double and a flyout, he felt something grab or tug on his first pitch to cleanup hitter Sean Murphy and stepped behind the mound, squatting in obvious discomfort. He threw another pitch, looked even worse, then was removed. A Tuesday morning MRI will be most telling, but oblique injuries tend to sideline pitchers six to eight weeks.
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“It’s a little saddening,” Patino said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “But for now, I’ll try to take all the negative stuff out of my head and try to think a little more positive and see what happens (Tuesday).”
Mazza, who made the team with an impressive spring, got knocked around, hitting Murphy, then allowing a three-run homer to Seth Brown and a solo shot to Chad Pinder. He allowed four more runs in the second, though two were unearned as a Taylor Walls error factored in.
Offensively, the only thing noteworthy was Wander Franco’s third three-hit game (in four), as he is now hitting .600 (9-for-15).
But the only real highlight was Phillips, who brought his usual energy and enthusiasm to the mound, zipping through a five-pitch eighth inning (helped by a double-play grounder) before giving up a grand slam in the ninth, making the amazing catch of Brown’s pop-up in front of the A’s dugout.
“That was unbelievable. ...” Cash said. “We’re going to see that play on the highlight reel for the rest of the year.”
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