Few things in baseball are more frustrating than a struggling bullpen. You hand your relief corps a lead only to watch them give it away once again. Of course, whenever a reliever blows a 1-0 lead, we have to blame the offense. If the Tampa Bay Rays had scored more than one run on Friday, they probably would have won anyway. Instead, it was the same old flaw dragging this team down as they lost their sixth game in a row and fell below .500.
The lone Rays run came on a Steven Souza Jr. solo home run in his first at-bat back after he was out with a wrist injury. At least Nate Karns himself didn’t need anything else. Karns continued the more positive trend–excellent Rays starting pitching–by going 6 shutout innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 7 while walking 2. His fastball and his curveball both looked good, but the difference for him in this game was his changeup. He threw it 17.2% of the time compared to his 7.67% average on the year, and was able to force a trio of whiffs with the pitch.
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However, Karns threw just 87 pitches before being taken out. Once again, Kevin Cash didn’t trust his starter to go deep into a ballgame despite strong results. This certainly deserves its own article, but the Rays now have taken out a starter after at least 5 shutout innings and 95 or less pitches nine times this season. Entering Friday, no other team had done so more than six times this season and half of baseball had done so one or less times. Given the struggles of the bullpen, wouldn’t this have been the game to see what Karns could do at 100 pitches or more?
Karns left the game and Kevin Jepsen proceeded to allow an Adam Jones solo home to make it a 1-1 game. At least Jake McGee was sharp in the eighth inning, striking out 1 in a perfect frame. His fastball was back to its usual velocity range, and he actually threw three curveballs. Just one was a strike, but all they really need to do is give hitters something else to look for, so they did their job. There is certainly reason to believe that McGee will be just fine.
In the top of the ninth, the Rays finally had their big chance. They had managed the Souza homer and little else against Miguel Gonzalez, who had allowed 1 run on 3 hits and no walks in 8 innings, but they loaded the bases against Darren O’Day on singles from Evan Longoria and David DeJesus plus a Logan Forsythe hit-by-pitch. However, Souza and Asdrubal Cabrera each struck out before Jake Elmore grounded out, and the game remained tied entering the bottom of the frame.
Brandon Gomes started the inning for the Rays, with Cash possibly shying away from Brad Boxberger in a non-save situation. There really shouldn’t be any difference for him, but maybe he has psyched himself out–he now has a 7.11 ERA and a 9-4 strikeout to walk ratio in non-save situations compared to a 0.75 ERA and an 18-4 mark in save spots. Going to Gomes was a defensible move and Gomes did decently, recording two outs but allowing a single before leaving the game.
Gomes had to depart in favor of Xavier Cedeno because Gomes has been terrible against lefty batters this season and always. In addition, Chris Davis is no ordinary lefty batter. However, even though Cash made the right move again, Davis singled and in came Steve Geltz to face the righty-swinging J.J. Hardy. Hardy delivered the walk-off base hit as the Rays lost 2-1. The only truly questionable call from Cash was taking Karns out for the seventh–otherwise, he put relievers in at the right times and they simply faltered. He can’t do anything about that.