Advertisement

Taj Bradley puts Rays in early hole vs. Jays, and it only gets worse

Tampa Bay used two position players on the mound in what was officially the worst loss in franchise history.
 
Rays starting pitcher Taj Bradley (45) allowed the first four runs in Tuesday's embarrassing 20-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
Rays starting pitcher Taj Bradley (45) allowed the first four runs in Tuesday's embarrassing 20-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 24, 2023|Updated May 24, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — The oddest scene in the most lopsided loss in Rays history took place with two outs in the top of the ninth when Luke Raley, the outfielder/first baseman who had been pitching, was replaced by catcher Christian Bethancourt, who trotted to the mound straight from the dugout.

There wasn’t much relief to be had anywhere Tuesday, as the Rays lost to the Blue Jays 20-1.

The 19-run deficit was the largest in franchise history, covering 3,996 games over 26 seasons, and the 27 hits were the most they ever have given up.

“Today got away from us,” manager Kevin Cash said. “And, in fairness, it got a little ugly.”

A “little” might seem kind, but the game only got out of hand as Raley and Bethancourt allowed nine runs in the ninth inning. And that’s a tradeoff the Rays (35-15) are willing to make to save two actual relievers from having to get those six final outs.

The game was actually close through the first four innings, as rookie Taj Bradley navigated some issues with the Jays’ potent lineup, allowing four runs.

It was in the fifth, when reliever Zack Burdi, a Monday callup, made a big mess, allowing the Jays to score six on a combination of five hits, a walk and two run-scoring wild pitches.

“Unraveled,” Cash said. “That was not a very good inning.”

Bradley’s start initially looked like his last outing on Thursday against the Mets, as he got in some trouble right away, but limited the damage to one run and settled in.

Thursday, that was good enough to get him through five solid innings.

Tuesday, not so much.

Though the 22-year-old rookie allowed just the one run after allowing singles to the first three hitters, and striking out the next three, he lasted only four innings, having run his pitch count up to 80. In his fifth big-league start, he allowed a homer to George Springer, who was 4-for-5, and an RBI-double to Danny Jansen.

Rays starting pitcher Zach Eflin (24) looks on from the dugout in the ninth inning Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay's 20-1 loss was the worst in franchise history.
Rays starting pitcher Zach Eflin (24) looks on from the dugout in the ninth inning Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay's 20-1 loss was the worst in franchise history. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“I thought Taj threw the ball a little bit better than maybe what the stat line showed,” Cash said. “They get three quick hits, but then he comes back and punches out three to end the inning. Unfortunately, just drove the pitch count up. In fairness to Taj, he’s doing a lot of good things.

“We’re going to have to have some patience with him. He’s learning on the fly here. But very confident he’s going to help us and he’s going to be a very good pitcher.’'

Bradley said he felt good in what was his first start in a normal five-day routine in the majors. He made an effort to mix his pitches by throwing fewer fastballs as the Jays seemed to be on it, and knew the pitch count was adding up fast as he struck out seven of the first 18 batters.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“I feel like I kind of sped up after the first inning,” Bradley said. “So I’ll go back and go over the game and see what I needed to work on or if there was anything — if just today wasn’t my day or if there is, like I said, go back and look at something. But for right now, I’m just going to think on it.”

Though Bradley was sent down after three solid April starts ostensibly to transition to a five-day routine, he pitched on the fifth day only once at Triple-A before being recalled. Tuesday was the first time doing so at the big-league level and he said it was not an issue.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said. “My (velocity) was the same. My pitches looked the same. Body felt great. It’s not that. It’s just today was a day that was an anomaly for me. Work out to get to the next outing and make it better.”

Rays position player Luke Raley (55) hands the ball to manager Kevin Cash (16) after allowing seven runs in less than two innings in a rare relief outing Tuesday night against Toronto.
Rays position player Luke Raley (55) hands the ball to manager Kevin Cash (16) after allowing seven runs in less than two innings in a rare relief outing Tuesday night against Toronto. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

After using rookie Kevin Kelly in the sixth and Colin Poche in the seventh, Cash turned to Raley, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander who on April 27 made his first appearance on the mound since high school, and told Cash Monday he would do whatever was needed.

When Raley allowed only one run and struck out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the eighth, Cash sent him back out for the ninth, which didn’t go as well. Guerrero had the big blast with a grand slam, as Raley allowed six runs. Bethancourt — who warmed up in the bullpen during the eighth —came in and allowed three more to put a bad ending on a rough night.

“It happens, it’s baseball,” Raley said. “We got beat up today, didn’t play our best ball, and that’s it.”

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Twitter and Facebook.