It is always a dangerous proposition to say “Well, the Tampa Bay Rays couldn’t get much against the opposing starter, but of course they’ll beat up the opposition’s weak bullpen.” When the other team’s starter tosses 7 strong innings, the Rays only have two chances to make up the difference, and far too often, that isn’t enough. In this case, though, the Rays did manage to come back, and we also have to wonder whether they–and maybe the league as a whole–have figured out Junichi Tazawa.
Entering his appearance against the Rays on August 2nd, Tazawa had pitched to a 2.60 ERA on the season, striking out 46 while walking just 7 in 45 innings pitched. He had also given up just 3 home runs. Despite the stellar numbers, however, the Rays were able to rally against him. Evan Longoria led off with a double before Asdrubal Cabrera doubled him in with one out and James Loney followed with an RBI single. That game started a 14-appearance stretch for Tazawa where he managed just a 6.75 ERA, walking 6 batters in 13.1 innings compared to 7 in his previous 45 frames.
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Tazawa did enter this game having struck out 6 while walking none in 3.2 shutout innings across his previous 4 appearances, but once again, going up against the Rays threw him off. It was deja vu at the Trop as Longoria again led off with a double, and then he scored on Logan Forsythe‘s RBI single. Asdrubal Cabrera then drilled a two-run homer to make it 6-4 Rays before Steven Souza Jr. singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and stole third base. Tazawa struck out Richie Shaffer before exiting the game having recorded just one out. He would end up giving up 4 runs in just a third of an inning after Souza scored on J.P. Arencibia‘s two-run homer off Noe Ramirez.
Earlier in the game, Chris Archer tied the Tampa Bay Rays record with 7 straight strikeouts but finished with disappointing numbers overall. He gave up 3 runs on 5 hits in 5+ innings, striking out 8 while walking 2. Just like his last start, he wound up throwing more changeups than usual, but this time, the reason was different. Rather than having issues with his fastball command, Archer simply didn’t have much on his slider. He gave up 4 of his 5 hits on the pitch and actually forced more whiffs with his heater. In any event, we can keep explaining Archer’s struggles, but he needs to do a better job pitching without his best stuff.
Enny Romero received a big chance as he appeared behind Archer in relief. He was brought into a first-and-third, no-out situation trying to maintain the Rays’ 3-1 lead, but it didn’t go well. He badly hung a 2-2 slider to Travis Shaw for an RBI double before giving up a more questionable hit, a Pablo Sandoval infield single, to let the Red Sox tie the game. Brandon Gomes then had to come in and was able to escape the inning with only one more run scoring. The Red Sox led 4-3, but at least Gomes managed to prevent further damage.
Steve Geltz and Andrew Bellatti followed with a scoreless inning each, but both of them needed to work around two baserunners to do so. The same was true for Brad Boxberger in the ninth. Luckily, the offense rallied and all three of them were able to pull off Houdini acts. This was another sketchy game for the Rays’ pitching staff–they now have just a 4.39 ERA in their last 17 games–but they did just enough this time.
Offensively, there were contributions across the board as Longoria, Cabrera, Souza, and Kevin Kiermaier all finished with multi-hit games while Cabrera and Arencibia both drilled two-run homers. It was great to see Souza looking good at the plate and on the basepaths in his return from the DL, although his defense in right field did look iffy at times. In any event, it’s great for the Rays to have another potential impact bat to complement the veterans and the hot hitters like Kiermaier and Arencibia.