Fernando Rodney was so close to getting out of it unscathed. Rodney had walked three of the first four batters he had faced in the inning, but he was one strike away from escaping the self-inflicted jam and sealing the Rays’ victory. But Will Middlebrooks was sitting changeup on Rodney’s 1-2 pitch and took advantage when he received the pitch he was looking for. It wasn’t even that bad of a pitch–a changeup in the lower part of the zone and over the outer part of the plate that had ended many a game the past couple seasons–but Middlebrooks was right on it and drilled a line drive towards the left-center field gap. Two runs scored and Matthew Joyce could not get there in time to prevent the third as the Red Sox came all the way back to take a 4-3 lead in the game. A fourth walk ended Rodney’s outing before rookie Alex Torres, making his season debut, got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to end the inning. Junichi Tazawa worked around a pair of hits in the 9th for Boston to seal their win.
Two starts ago, it was David Price who keyed a bullpen turnaround for the Rays, with Price’s perseverance in his outing getting Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth going as well and starting a nice run for the bullpen. But Price departed with a triceps injury on Wednesday, an injury that landed him on the disabled list, and with Price gone, the Rays’ bullpen effectiveness vanished as well. After Jamey Wright gave up a grand slam on Wednesday, Rodney was next in line as he collapsed on Thursday. Rodney simply had no idea where his fastball was going, throwing it for a strike just 6 of the 18 times that he went to it, and while he almost got away with it, he got what he deserved in the end. But all hope is certainly not lost for this Rays’ bullpen. Rodney’s command will certainly be much better in future outings–and his velocity was still incredible as he touched triple digits–and Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and Torres all pitched well. But it was frustrating to see this problem that the Rays had seemingly left behind come to haunt them again and the Rays bullpen has to find a way to recompose itself and move on.
If Alex Cobb was feeling any extra pressure after Price hit the DL, he certainly didn’t show it. Cobb pitched excellently, going 6.1 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2. He wanted to go farther and was more than miffed when Joe Maddon took him out after a walk in the 7th in favor of McGee, even with the lefty Stephen Drew coming to the plate. But as Cobb rumbled a bit after returning to the dugout, Jeremy Hellickson stood there motionless. Why? Because as Hellickson knows after what happened in his last outing (the Jesus Guzman grand slam), it’s better to take out a pitcher one batter too early than one batter too late. Joe Maddon showed trust in McGee and his bullpen, and it was unfortunate that Rodney spoiled what could have been a major confidence-building experience for this Rays bullpen.
If Rodney paid for the walks he issued even though it seemed like he was about to escape. The same can be said for the Rays offense. The Rays let Felix Doubront off the hook as he allowed 6 walks and 3 hits in 5+ innings but only allowed 2 runs. A Ryan Roberts home run was all the Rays could manage in the first five innings before Desmond Jennings and Luke Scott delivered RBI singles in the 6th to make it 3-1 Rays. Three runs is often enough for the Rays to win given their pitching, but the bullpen implosion elucidates that they really have to find a way to take nothing for granted seize every run they can get. The Rays went just 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners on base. Most of the time, Rodney nails down that save and the offense’s missed opportunities go forgotten. But we can never know how big of a difference one run could have made. The Rays will hope to rebound at Friday at 7:10 PM as they begin a big weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles. Jeremy Hellickson takes on Jason Hammel in the opener as the Rays hope to wash away the memories of these last two games and continue to gain ground in the AL East.