ST. PETERSBURG — Rays rookie Shane Baz did his part Tuesday, working impressively into the sixth inning as his pitch count climbed into the mid-90s, keeping the Brewers off the board while protecting a one-run lead.
Manager Kevin Cash jogged to the mound to make a change with one on and two out in the inning. He had a rested bullpen and picked one of his most effective relievers of late in Matt Wisler, who hadn’t allowed a run in 11 of his last 12 outings and just three hits over his last nine.
Then, in a span of eight pitches, it all went terribly wrong.
Wisler allowed a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen that put the Brewers up by a run, on an 0-1 slider. A double to Kolten Wong on a 1-2 slider followed. Then another two-run homer to Luis Arias on a first-pitch slider.
That made the game as good as done, which it soon was, with Tampa Bay losing 5-3.
“Obviously, you never want to blow a game,” Wisler said. “Obviously, you know, too, their bullpen’s pretty good, so those runs are gonna be tough to come by against them. So, obviously not giving (ourselves) a chance to win a game is probably the worst thing we can do. And obviously it didn’t go our way (Tuesday), or my way (Tuesday).”
The loss ended a modest three-game winning streak for the Rays (40-33). It also got them off to a bad start on a stretch of 10 games in nine days, with a doubleheader Saturday in Toronto and 20 in 20 leading up to the All-Star break.
Cash said the decision to take out Baz, the 23-year-old making his fourth start after being delayed by spring arthroscopic elbow surgery, wasn’t hard given that he was at 95 pitches.
Baz hadn’t thrown even 80 pitches in a rehab or regular-season game this season and hadn’t reached 95 in a game since 2019 at Class A. Plus, he didn’t exactly get there easily, though he allowed just three hits and two walks, starting with a 23-pitch first inning.
“I thought Shane threw the ball really well,” Cash said. “I was excited to see him kind of bounce back. I still don’t quite think it was coming easy for him early on. Just didn’t feel like he could find his rhythm.
“He’ll get there. I think he’s going to get there and find the balance of starting games off and how to do those things. But once he settled in, he made big pitches.”
Baz took the blame for letting his pitch count get that high: “I could have been a lot more efficient, so it’s on me. The more efficient I can be, the longer I can stay out there, so that’s definitely the goal.”
Cash said the decision to go to Wisler, who throws sliders almost exclusively, also was easy.
“‘Wis’ has been so good for us certainly this season — well, since we acquired him,” Cash said “Just kind of came together really fast.”
Wisler said he felt good, similar to his recent run of success, but was getting too much of the plate. Cash said some credit should go to the Brewers’ batters. Related or not, they do have former Rays coach Ozzie Timmons as one of their hitting coaches.
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“Looked like Milwaukee had a good approach,” Cash said. “I mean, it’s not a big secret what (Wisler’s) doing. He’s going to throw his breaking ball, and he’s gonna throw it a lot. And generally there’s some deception and a little extra bite in there that throws hitters off. They did a good job.”
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said the scouting report on Wisler is telling. “The numbers kind of hit you in the face,’’ Counsell said. “Ozzie told them to watch for the slider. Still have to hit it though.’'
The other issue for the Rays, again, was a quiet night at the plate.
They didn’t get a baserunner until the fourth, as Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, just off the injured list after an ankle issue and a bout of finger numbness, set down the first nine batters in order, seven on strikeouts.
A hustle double by Yandy Diaz got the Rays going, and a single by Randy Arozarena — continuing his warming trend with hits in five of his last six games — got them the lead. But that was it until the eighth when, down 5-1, they got two runs off Jason Alexander before the Brewers went to lockdown relievers Devin Williams and Josh Hader.
“Generally,” Cash said, “one run’s not going to cut it.”
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