The Tampa Bay Rays came into their final series before the All-Star Break having lost 15 of their last 18. They desperately needed to get back on track, and they managed to do just that by finishing off a sweep of the Houston Astros on Sunday by the score of 4-3. Matt Moore’s command is still lacking since his return from Tommy John Surgery, but he was able to get through five innings and the Rays’ offense and bullpen did the rest.
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The Astros struck early with a run in the first inning off an Evan Gattis groundout. However, the Rays countered in the bottom of the second when David DeJesus tripled home James Loney and then scored on a wild pitch, putting the Rays up 2-1. Jose Altuve drove an 0-2 pitch just over the wall in left-center to give the Astros a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth. Then Rays loaded the bases in the fifth and would tie the game on their favorite play: the bases loaded walk, this one from John Jaso. Grady Sizemore grounded into a fielder’s choice to score another run, putting the Rays up for good 4-3.
Tampa native Lance McCullers got the start for Houston. I personally faced him in AAU ball when I was 12 and he pitched against my High School team my freshman year, so it was pretty cool to see him pitch against the Rays. He had nasty stuff going on the game and other than a few lapses with his command, he was solid. He struck out 10 and only allowed 4 hits in 6 innings, but the Rays were able to get to him just enough to come out ahead. The 21 year old looks like he has a long career ahead of him.
Matt Moore looked a bit better in his third start back from Tommy John surgery. His overall command was still shaky at times, but he was able to get through 5 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3 as well. His curveball looked especially good, going several times for strikes at the bottom of the zone, and the velocity of his fastball was more consistent. Overall, this was a step in the right direction for Moore, and he will hope to continue his progress after the All-Star Break.
The Rays bullpen did some heavy lifting on the afternoon but was solid on the whole. Brandon Gomes, Steve Geltz, Kevin Jepsen and Brad Boxberger each threw a scoreless inning to protect their team’s one-run lead. Jepsen and Boxberger pitched in all three games this weekend without allowing a run, with Boxberger reminding us why he received an All-Star Game nod. The Rays’ relief corps struggled mightily for a stretch, but it is great to see the group get back on track. It was looking like an above-average bullpen, and the Rays need it to be that the rest of the season.
Other notable things from the game were how good David DeJesus looked, John Jaso‘s bizarre day, and the Rays’ defense. DeJesus was seemingly the only Rays hitter that really figured out McCullers, going 2 for 3 with two well-struck hits, including his triple. Jaso, meanwhile, could not have been more lost in his first two at-bats, swinging at pitches far out of the zone, but he managed to work a bases-loaded walk in his third plate appearance. He didn’t believe it–he was staying in the batter’s box–but the umpire told him he had walked, and the Rays had scored a run.
Kevin Kiermaier had his usual three really nice catches in the outfield, running down some deep drives from the Houston hitters. The Rays’ defensive positioning in this series was excellent and it was huge reason why they were able to hold the powerful Astros’ lineup to just four runs in the entire three-game series. On the stranger side, two different popups were lost in the rafters that could have been outs for Matt Moore. Both times, Curt Casali thought he had a play in foul territory before the ball simply disappeared. One of them simply got stuck in the roof, never coming down.
The Tampa Bay Rays now head into the All-Star Break at 46-45 and are only 3.5 games back of first place. That is pretty outstanding considering the amount of players who have been put on the DL this season and how many replacements they have needed to call upon for production. Kevin Cash and Matt Silverman deserve a ton of credit in their respective first years for being able to right the ship so far. The second half of the season should be thrilling.