ST. PETERSBURG — The rally that led to the Rays losing again Thursday was painful enough, with just-recalled Ryan Thompson hitting a Phillies batter with one out in the 11th inning and then allowing run-scoring hits to the next two.
The 3-1 defeat extended their season-high losing streak to five, and their ongoing skid to 14 losses in their last 24 games, dropping their American League-leading record to 57-33 and their East lead over Baltimore to four games. It also marked the first time this season the Rays were swept in a series.
But the bigger concern has got to be their offense, which — except for a few occasional outbursts — has been in an extended funk. Thursday they were shut down again, held to four hits (all in the first six innings off lefty starter Cristopher Sanchez) and going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Worse, in nine of the innings the Rays faced lefty pitchers, against whom they had previously done notably better.
“It’s a long season, and I think right now we’re at that bottom part of the ups and downs,” said all-star infielder Yandy Diaz, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “But you’ve just got to keep going.”
Diaz suggested, as did Harold Ramirez, that there is nothing the hitters should or need to do, that the same work and preparation that led to them piling up staggering offensive numbers over the first two-plus months will again lead to more production.
“I think it’s just the process of the game, and I think maybe (Friday) we may even get out of it,” Diaz said.
Maybe so, as that is the typical answer, that the next day could be when it all changes.
”Every day we have to come back positive, no matter what happened,” Ramirez said. “Tomorrow’s a new day. This game just passed, so we have to come back ready for (Friday).”
One flaw in that thinking — the Rays on Friday open a three-games series hosting the majors-best Braves, who roll into Tropicana Field for the weekend with a 58-28 record and on a 26-5 run. They also have strong starters Charlie Morton, Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder lined up.
The All-Star break, which starts after Sunday’s game, may not be coming soon enough.
Before the game, manager Kevin Cash tried to sum up the offensive issues.
“Things are just not coming easy right now,” he said. “The timely hitting is not quite there. I feel like maybe we’ve swung and missed a little bit more here as of late at the plate. (We’re) not making the adjustments that we were making.”
Reminded after the game about saying things not coming easy, Cash replied: “Yeah, I’ve said that for about 15 games now.”
The Rays got their only run when Isaac Paredes led off the sixth with a homer, his 15th. Of the few chances they had, the eighth inning seemed promising when Taylor Walls and Diaz drew two-out walks off ex-Rays reliever Jose Alvarado and Wander Franco worked a tremendous 11-pitch at-bat before lining out.
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The Rays pitching plan worked out very well, as rather than call up a starter or a pitcher to work bulk innings behind an opener, they opted for what Cash called “a true bullpen day” to “try to piece it together.”
They did, and well through the first 10 innings. Their first seven pitchers — led by Shawn Armstrong delivering a very strong first three, striking out five of the 11 he faced — allowing just one run and four hits combined over 10 innings.
Then Thompson, called up Thursday morning, and as the last available pitcher forced to faced more lefties than the Rays prefer, got the first out in the 11th, but hit No. 9 batter Garrett Stubbs, putting him on in addition to the runner placed at second.
“It looked like he’s throwing the ball really well,” Cash said, “and then the 2-2 pitch to Stubbs that hit him, it kind of a little bit unraveled right there.”
Thompson’s goal was to get a ground ball from Kyle Schwarber for an inning-ending double play. He got the grounder, but it skipped through the infield to score Edmundo Sosa from second. Trea Turner then laced another single to make it 3-1.
“I felt like I got the result I was looking for (with Schwarber),” Thompson said.
“Being a ground ball guy, you can’t control where the ground ball goes. When you come in in those situations in extra innings, you’ve got the guy on second. One run is — of course you’re trying to keep it at a zero — but in those situations, it’s like you try to keep the crooked number off. From that point on, giving up that second run was really what killed us.”
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