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Tampa Bay Rays Game 56: The Win That Encapsulates 2015

By Robbie Knopf
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Jake Odorizzi left this start for the Tampa Bay Rays with left oblique tightness, and that is more critical than what actually happened in the game. Odorizzi has dominated along with Chris Archer to keep an injury-depleted Rays rotation among the best in baseball, but if the Rays lose him, the drop-off to whoever is next will be dramatic. It wasn’t the worst-case scenario–he didn’t walk off the field holding his elbow–but we can’t be optimistic that he can avoid the DL. The dream is that Odorizzi will miss just one to two starts, especially given that the Rays only need four starters until June 15th.

With that major disclaimer aside, this was some win for the Rays, and it was one that summarized this season thus far extremely well. Their starter departed with an injury, but they somehow battled back against all odds and emerged victorious anyway. Odorizzi went 4.1 innings allowing no runs on 4 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. Xavier Cedeno finished the fifth inning in his place before Andrew Bellatti delivered a shutout relief outing of 2.2 innings or more for the third time this season. He went 3 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 3.

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Bellatti now has 7 walks against 10 strikeouts in 10 big league innings, but he is somehow making that work. In this game, he faced the minimum three batters in two of his three innings, getting help not only from the strikeouts, but also a 4-0 groundout to flyout ratio. Bellatti has been the definition of effectively wild, pumping mid-90’s fastballs, sharp sliders, and solid changeups to get past walks unscathed nearly every time. We will have to see if he can continue that, but he has given the Rays a huge lift in three different games now. Belatti was optioned to Triple-A after the game in favor of a fresh arm, Enny Romero.

While the pitchers were keeping the Seattle Mariners off the ball, the offense was sputtering again. The Rays received singles from Brandon Guyer and Evan Longoria in the third inning only to see Guyer break too early for third base and get thrown out. Longoria was then also caught stealing in the fourth before the Rays stranded runners at second base in the fifth and sixth innings. J.A. Happ finished with 7 strong innings for Seattle, striking out 6 to help him get past 6 hits and 1 walk without allowing a run.

Carson Smith then worked around a hit-by-pitch in a hitless eighth inning, but the Rays’ old friend, Fernando Rodney, entered the game for the ninth. It didn’t take long for the Rays to make him miserable again. Logan Forsythe got ahead in the count 2-1 before pulling his hands in on an elevated fastball and drilling it into the seats for a solo home run. The Tampa Bay Rays were up 1-0 entering the bottom of the ninth, but the Mariners had three more outs and were not going to go down easily.

Kevin Jepsen entered his third straight game with Brad Boxberger still unavailable. If the prospect of a tired Jepsen wasn’t bad enough, Austin Jackson began the inning with a line drive into right-center. Steven Souza Jr. missed on his dive and Kevin Kiermaier didn’t do a good enough job backing him up, allowing Jackson to go into third with a leadoff triple. Seattle was 90 feet away from sending the game into extra innings. Even if that was all that Jepsen allowed, the Rays’ bullpen was short-handed and it was hard to believe that they would win in extra innings.

However, then Jepsen got ahead of Brad Miller 1-2 before striking him out on a fastball up. He battled more with Mike Zunino, with Zunino getting ahead 2-1 and working the count to 3-2 with several foul balls, but Jepsen finally elicited weak contact on a fastball to yield a shallow fly to right field on which Jackson couldn’t score from third. Dustin Ackley then popped up on another fastball, and the Tampa Bay Rays had won again.

There was a little bit of everything from 2015 in this game for the Rays. It began with an injury to a starter, but a fill-in came out of nowhere to keep the team competitive. The offense remained iffy, but it was doing just enough to win. However, even after the team’s good start, the bullpen had its issues, as did the defense. Combine that would with a mediocre lineup, and the result did not seem like it would be a winning team. Yet somehow the Rays kept it together and kept pace in the American League East. There’s your narrative for this season from this game alone.

The Tampa Bay Rays are now 30-26 and remain just a half-game back of the New York Yankees in the AL East. People continue to describe the AL East as baseball’s weakest division for this season, but it is worth noting that the Rays would be the second AL Wild Card if the season ended today. They will hope to keep their improbable run going as they send Alex Colome to the mound against Felix Hernandez at 10:10 PM EST on Saturday night.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Is Desmond Jennings Wanted Back?

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