Monday’s game went well for the Tampa Bay Rays in a variety of of ways. Evan Longoria continued his hot hitting by going 3 for 4 with a two-run homer and J.P. Arencibia kept providing a spark by drilling a solo shot. Mikie Mahtook capped a 2-for-3 day with a game-tying RBI single while Asdrubal Cabrera went 2 for 4. The Rays did well with runners in scoring position for once, going 2 for 5 (.400), and knocked out Tigers starter Randy Wolf in the fifth inning. Matt Andriese also had a nice moment as he escaped a first-and-third, one-out situation and is hopefully starting to build confidence out of the bullpen.
However, the Rays lost this game because of two disastrous sequences to Tigers leadoff hitter Rajai Davis. That drives you absolutely crazy because this was a game where Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez went a combined 0 for 7 with a walk. Another well-known hitter, Ian Kinsler, did go 2 for 4 while catcher James McCann went 3 for 4 with a 2-run homer, but you account for Kinsler and at least McCann beat Drew Smyly on a fastball. Davis, on the other hand, drove in three game-changing runs on a pair of hanging breaking balls.
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In the first inning, Smyly threw four straight fastballs to Davis and got him to pop out. In the fourth, Smyly mixed in just one cutter among his four offerings as he forced Davis to hit a routine flyball. In light of those at-bats, it seems nothing short of crazy how the Rays approached Davis in the third and seventh innings. In the third, Smyly alternated breaking balls and fastballs for all five pitches to him, and when he badly hung his fifth-pitch curveball, Davis was all over it for a two-run home run. Why was Smyly messing around with breaking balls against Davis when he knew that he could get him with the fastball? This isn’t just a one-game sample thing either–Davis has been better against secondary pitches than against heaters all season.
Then Brandon Gomes went to the mound against Rajai Davis and started him with a first-pitch slider for a ball. Then he decided, for some reason, to come with another breaking ball, and Davis was right on it when he saw another floater. The two-homer game was just the second in Davis’ 1051-game major league career and the Rays facilitated it by getting too cute with their curveballs and sliders. You can’t get a hitter out the same way every time, but there is no world where throwing more breaking balls to Rajai Davis than fastballs should make sense for any at-bat.
Of course, everything could have been different had Smyly and Gomes executed better with their breaking pitches, but the key point is that this wasn’t a correct gameplan that simply didn’t work out. Throwing excessive secondary pitches to Davis was not a winning strategy because he hits them better than fastballs and especially because there was a greater risk of disastrous results should a pitch be misplaced within the strike zone. The fact that the pitches were hangers only made the bad decisions turn into horrible ones.