ST. PETERSBURG — Just a few days ago, it seemed the Rays were breaking into a full stride. Now, that trot looks more like a limp.
The Rays finished an uneven homestand Sunday with a 9-3 loss to the Twins before 14,830 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays (12-10) were outscored 18-4 over the final two games of the series, surrendering 27 hits. Dating to Friday, the Rays have just those four runs to show for their last 23 innings.
Left-hander Josh Fleming (2-3), who has surrendered 13 runs (eight of them unearned) in his last two outings, was hammered early. Meanwhile, the Rays’ offense had no answers, managing just two hits over the first six innings and falling behind 8-0 before the bats showed some life.
“We’ve got some key guys out (with injury) … and we’ve got some key guys who are just not seeing the ball that well right now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It feels, I’d like to think, much worse than what it is. We just went 5-4 on a homestand. I think we’ve got to take the long view and be patient. We need to do a good job of being patient and trust our belief in our guys.”
For Cash, that includes believing in Fleming, who is undergoing the toughest stretch of his still-brief major-league career. He endured his third consecutive home defeat, after going 8-0 (in his previous 12 appearances at the Trop.
It began poorly. On the game’s third pitch, Rays shortstop Taylor Walls rushed his throw on speedy leadoff batter Byron Buxton’s bouncer and sailed it over the head of first baseman Harold Ramirez for a two-base throwing error.
Five of the next six batters also reached base, including a two-run double by Jorge Polanco, and the Twins had a 5-0 lead in the first inning. Fleming recovered slightly and grinded through the next two innings but was lifted with two outs in the fourth after surrendering a 428-foot homer to Buxton.
“Nothing has come easy, but I do think it will turn around,” said Fleming, who gave up five hits and three walks over 3-2/3 innings. “I have to just keep believing in myself. With the last few rough outings, my stuff has still been good. I just keep telling myself I will get through it. That’s the only way to go about it. Keep trusting.”
For now, at least, Fleming said he’s encouraged to still have his manager’s trust.
“We’re going to see him (Fleming) through the course of the season get on runs where he’s super efficient and he’s more efficient than any pitcher,” Cash said. “He works quick. But so far, it just hasn’t played that way yet.
“We’ve got to find ways to limit the damage. Credit Minnesota’s lineup. They hit a lot of balls hard. Even the ball the other way, they were coming off the bat pretty good. You look at their lineup … and we saw it in spring training … when it gets rolling, it can be really dangerous. And unfortunately, we’ve kind of seen it back-to-back days.”
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The Rays averted the shutout with Walls’ RBI double in the seventh. Two more garbage-time runs were scored in the eighth. Brandon Lowe produced a one-out, ground-rule double, then scored on Manuel Margot’s seeing-eye single up the middle. Randy Arozarena then delivered his second double of the game to score Margot.
Arozarena’s 2-for-4 performance was more evidence that he’s finally getting hot. He had been 2-for-his-last-29. Sunday, the two doubles were his first extra-base hits since April 20 and raised his batting average from .195 to .210. One of his doubles had an exit velocity of 114.1 mph, according to Statcast, the hardest-hit ball of his major-league career.
“It was encouraging that Randy squared some balls up, for sure,” Cash said. “Now we’ve got to find a way to get on a run. Ideally, we would like to get the offense going and give our pitchers a little breathing room. You go through patches like this. But 5-4 (on a homestand) is not what we’re shooting for.”
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