CHICAGO — Marcus Stroman didn’t necessarily do anything different Monday than other pitchers have tried or than he has in past meetings with the Rays.
But the Cubs starter did well enough in Monday’s matinee to shut down the majors’ most prolific offense like no one else has.
The Rays’ output for the afternoon against Stroman was one hit (by Wander Franco opening the seventh), one walk, one batter hit by a pitch — and zero runs in a 1-0 loss.
“He was really good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He had a lot of late movement. We didn’t hit many balls hard. He executed his pitches where he wanted to. …
“He just had really good stuff. … We were very prepared and aware of what he is going to do. But sometimes all that awareness, it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is executing like he did (Monday).”
That the holiday matinee took place the day after the Rays posted 11 runs and 15 hits in beating the Dodgers made it somewhat of a novelty.
“Sometimes that’s baseball,” Cash said. “Pretty unique game.”
That it happened the way it did when rookie Taj Bradley delivered arguably the best of his six big-league starts and the only run scored as the result of throwing error from third base by slick-fielding Taylor Walls made it somewhat annoying as the Rays’ majors-best record fell to 39-17.
“Man, (Bradley) was great,” Walls said. “Hate that I couldn’t make that play behind him. But he was awesome. Stuff was really good. Keeping hitters off balance, getting ahead in counts, throwing pitches where he wanted them. I felt like he could control pretty much all three-four pitches he had going (Monday). He was extremely impressive, extremely composed.”
Bradley, the 22-year-old moved into the rotation due to injuries, didn’t have the first-inning troubles that marked his two previous starts, and he worked a career-high 5 2/3 innings, allowing three singles and one walk, striking out eight, hitting 98.6 mph (which was rounded to 99 on the stadium board). Of his career-most 90 pitches, he had 11 swing-and-misses and 28 foul balls.
His key was going with his strengths — attacking hitters and getting ahead early in counts. “I wasn’t trying to do too much,” Bradley said. “I pitched the way I always do. I didn’t try to mix pitches or try to trick them, I just beat them in the zone. And I feel like that’s where the outing became the best.”
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Cash couldn’t have been more pleased: “He’s going to continue getting better but, man, what a step in the right direction.”
The only run was scored in the fourth. With Walls shifted more toward shortstop, right-hander Seiya Suzuki hit a sharp grounder down the third-base line. Walls got there quickly and set his feet, but said his weight wasn’t shifted properly and he sailed the throw over first.
“Knowing that he gets down the line pretty well, I knew I had to kind of let go of it pretty quick,” he said. “So I just didn’t quite get the release point down to where I wanted it to be.”
Suzuki ended up on second, the play scored a hit and an error, and came around and in on two fly outs. It was the second time the Rays lost 1-0 this season; on April 26 vs. the Astros they got two hits.
Stroman retired the first six Rays, then hit Luke Raley with a pitch to open the third. But he set down 12 more before Franco blooped a ball to left to open the seventh. He had a no-hitter through six innings — allowing only one baserunner when Luke Raley was hit by a pitch in the fourth — then allowed the lone hit, a single by Franco leading off the seventh.
Franco quickly stole second and Brandon Lowe followed with a walk. But Randy Arozarena flied to right and Josh Lowe grounded into an inning-ending double play. Stroman, an offseason Tampa Bay-area resident, finished his fifth career complete game, and his first one-hitter, with 105 pitches. He said he benefitted from the energy of the roaring Wrigley Field crowd of 38,163.
He was pretty proud of himself, especially given his 5-8, 5.04 mark against Tampa Bay in 16 previous meetings, most when he was with Toronto.
“The Rays are incredible,” Stroman said. “I’ve struggled against the Rays my entire career. Their lineups are always scrappy and it feels like they’re always on everything. They are one of those teams that continuously puts out great hitters one through nine, even when you don’t necessarily know who they are. Even when they bring up guys from the minors, they have success. ... I used to hate facing the Rays because they don’t give (at-bats) away.”
Walls said the reason for Stroman’s success Monday was obvious.
“He did a good job of putting pitches where we couldn’t quite get barrels to them, messing with timing enough and getting weak contact throughout the day and throughout the lineup,” Walls said.
“It kind of just it is what it is. … Just one of those things you’ve got to kind of tip your hat, I guess, and then not look too deep into it. Days like this are going to happen and we’ll bounce back. Everybody’s going to go home, not even think about it in 10-15 minutes and then come back (Tuesday) ready.”
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