May 3, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (31) scores in front of Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (23) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Rays Game 31: Jake Odorizzi, Josh Lueke Come Apart Again

With a bullpen that had thrown 15.2 innings, the Tampa Bay Rays desperately needed Jake Odorizzi to provide length. However, Odorizzi had not pitched five innings in three starts, with issues the second time through the order dismantling him every time. It was the same story this time against the New York Yankees–but at least there was something that the Rays might be able to fix.

Jake Odorizzi was literally perfect the time through the order, retiring all nine batters on 48 pitches, striking out 3 in the process. The Rays’ strategy was to have him pitch off his fastball more than ever. He threw 72.9% fastballs the first time through the order, his highest mark of the season and considerably above his 51.8% average, and it worked extremely. He kept his split-change almost entirely back, throwing it just 22.9% of the time compared to his average of 38.1% in previous outings. He had gotten through 3 innings in style, and now he could start relying more heavily on his split-change. But for some reason, it simply didn’t happen. Among Odorizzi’s 39 pitches, just 5 of them (12.8%) were changeups while his fastball rate jumped 82.1%. You have to assume the logic would be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but Odorizzi had set himself up perfectly to start using his splitter more and for some bizarre reason he didn’t.

Given his recent results, it was not so surprising that Odorizzi allowed 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks while tossing just 1+ innings after his perfect beginning. The storyline is going to be that he came apart again, and that most certainly did happen. But this time, Odorizzi found the right formula for the first three innings with his fastball only to forget to integrate his split-change more afterwards. If he does that in his next outing, there is no reason that he can’t find the success he has been missing. The biggest question now, though, may be whether the Rays give him that chance.

After Odorizzi departed with second and third, nobody out, and a tie game in the fifth inning, Cesar Ramos came on just one day’s rest to try to get out of it. The disclaimer here is that today was his bullpen day and he was scheduled to throw a few pitches anyway. But there is a big difference between a bullpen and a high-pressure situation, and Ramos was unfazed nevertheless. Ramos struck out Brett Gardner for the first out, and after walking Mark Teixeira intentionally, he struck out Brian McCann and forced Alfonso Soriano to ground out. Ramos is starting for now, but when the Rays’ rotation is fully healthy and he heads back to the bullpen, a game like this showcases just how dominant he could be.

The highlights of this game were Ramos and solo home runs by Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers off of Masahiro Tanaka. That was it. After three early runs, Tanaka rebounded to go 7 strong frames while the Rays’ bullpen came apart. Josh Lueke gave New York a 4-3 lead on a home run by ex-Ray Kelly Johnson, and then he allowed two more runs in the 7th to make it a 6-3 game. The Rays’ bullpen is hurting badly and needs a fresh arm–is this latest meltdown by Lueke the final straw that runs him out of town? Then Heath Bell entered the game in the 8th inning despite throwing 43 pitches to earn the win on Friday night. Unsurprisingly, he was hit hard, allowing 3 runs in an inning of work. You can’t blame him, although his ERA is not going to take that into account. The Rays were going to lose the game anyway, and they have to appreciate that he went that extra inning and saved the bullpen for tomorrow’s game.

The Rays’ 3-game win streak is over, and they will hope to come away with a series win tomorrow as Erik Bedard goes up against CC Sabathia. This game turned out to be disastrous, but hopefully the Rays have a better grasp of the game plan for Jake Odorizzi in his next outing and at least the key relievers did not have to pitch. If Lueke packs his bags, that would only be a bonus.

Tags: Jake Odorizzi Tampa Bay Rays

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