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Tampa Bay Rays Game 54: Asdrubal Cabrera Comes Up Huge

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Sometimes in baseball, the starting pitching matchup in a game looks extremely one-sided. The worst is when it is an ace against a number five starter, but Chris Sale versus Nate Karns didn’t look too promising for the Tampa Bay Rays either. Karns is a talented young arm, but he was matched up with one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Rays could not have liked their chances–at least they had already won their series against the Chicago White Sox by winning on Friday and Saturday.

However, then the game began and Karns pitched extremely well. He allowed a run in the second inning when Gordon Beckham doubled before Carlos Sanchez singled him in, but that was all. Karns finished with 6 innings allowing 1 run on 8 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. It was a tremendous rebound from consecutive starts in which he allowed 4 earned runs, and he was certainly holding his own as he went up against Sale.

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The key for Karns was his changeup–he threw it 20 times, the second-highest count of his career, and that made sense because it had never been more effective. He generated a career-high five whiffs on the offering, blowing past his previous best of three. Karns’ fastball and curveball both looked good as well, but it was the changeup that put Karns over the top. We were saying entering the season that the keys for Karns were going to be his command and changeup–he has walked three batters just once in his last eight starts and games like this show the progress that he is making with the change.

However, despite Karns’ best efforts, the Rays were still trailing 1-0. They had two big chances, getting two baserunners in both the first and third innings, but both “rallies” fell for nought. The first came on a Brandon Guyer single and a Joey Butler walk to begin the game while the second fell into place after Guyer was hit by a pitch and Butler reached on an error. Through six innings, the Guyer leadoff single was the only hit that Chris Sale had allowed.

Entering the seventh inning, Sale had retired 11 Rays in a row, seven via the strikeout. That streak ended to begin the frame when Steven Souza Jr. got behind in the count 1-2 but took a fastball, a slider, and a changeup off the plate to draw a walk. The Tampa Bay Rays finally had a little bit of momentum, but with Asdrubal Cabrera coming to the plate, he of the .205/.266/.307 line entering the game, Rays fans could not be too excited. Little did they know that after two changeups to make it a 1-1 count, Cabrera would drill a fastball mid-out into the left field seats for a go-ahead two-run home run. The Rays suddenly led 2-1.

The Rays got great relief work behind Karns, with C.J. Riefenhauser, Steve Geltz, and Kevin Jepsen allowing one baserunner combined in an inning each, and the defense stepped up as well. Rene Rivera threw out Adam Eaton trying to steal to help Riefenhauser face the minimum three in the seventh. Up next was Asdrubal Cabrera, who continued his excellent day by throwing out Melky Cabrera on a groundball in the ninth after ranging over to his left to glove it and then spinning before firing to first. Jepsen now has five saves as Kevin Cash is really taking “closer by committee” seriously.

The win takes the Tampa Bay Rays to 35-29 on the season, tied with the New York Yankees for the best mark in the AL East. Tomorrow, the Rays begin a four-game home-and-home series with the Washington Nationals at Tropicana Field and then Nationals Park. It will all get started at the Trop on Monday night at 7:10 PM as Erasmo Ramirez heads to the mound against Gio Gonzalez.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Dezmond Chumley (Rd 28) the Next Jennings?

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