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Tampa Bay Rays: Unconscionable Lapses Basis for Concern

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Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Xavier Cedeno (31) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Xavier Cedeno (31) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /
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Poor judgment, key mistakes and all-around sloppy play is frustrating and it has almost become the norm for the Tampa Bay Rays, could changes be coming?

What a difference a week makes for the Tampa Bay Rays as they have gone from having one of their best starts of the season, to seeing that disappear quicker than David Copperfield completes one of his magic acts.

The strikeouts, those not by the pitchers are coming at an overwhelming rate, poor defense, miscues on the base path, meager situational hitting, and a bullpen that is becoming overworked and inconsistent are frustrating situations. Each one is fixable, however what will it take to make the corrections and how long until they are made is the question of the day.

Through 15 games, Ray’s batters have struck out 160 times, tops in the in the majors, a head of Milwaukee (151) and in the AL, the Los Angeles Angels (121). Surprisingly, Evan Longoria and Brad Miller lead the team in strikeouts with 22 and not Steven Souza Jr. In the Boston series alone, the Rays struck out 46 times – 40 over the final three games.

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Staggering info is that the Rays have gone down via the strikeout at least 10 times in four straight games and in seven of their last eight games. More so, is that last year through 15 games they had only fanned 135 times and would go on to set a club record with 1,482 strikeouts?

On the flip side, Ray’s pitchers are not striking out batters like we have been accustomed to seeing in past years. Thus far, the pitchers have only struck out 93 batters, through 15 games tying them for last with the Twins. Last season, through 14 games they had 144.

Mental lapses are nothing new to the Rays as evident from last season (Tim Beckham) but to see this again is mind-boggling.  Take for example Xavier Cedeno pitching against the New York Yankees on April 12. The score is 3-3, one out and runners on the corners, Cedeno fielded a ground ball off the bat of Brent Gardner, paused after a brief look at second and threw to first – however, he forgot that the infield was in and no one was covering first base. Result was an error to Cedeno and a massive collision between Rickie Weeks Jr. and Gardner with a run crossing the plate to give the Yankees the lead.

It is one thing to be aggressive on the base path, but when you are not known for speed then why gamble on stretching a single into a double knowing that the opposing fielders have decent arms. Derek Norris and Rickie Weeks Jr. did that against the Yankees and what could have extended the Rays lead turned into a Ray’s loss because of their poor judgement. .

While the Rays have only nine errors thus far this season, they have been costly one way or another – more so causing their pitchers to throw additional pitches before they are able to get out of the inning. Case in point came on Monday against the Boston Red Sox in the second inning when Brad Miller mishandled Tim Beckham’s routine throw for an error.

That error caused Blake Snell to throw an additional 24 pitches, and when the inning was all said and done Snell had thrown 66 pitches in just two innings and would turn the game over to the bullpen having thrown 102 pitches in five innings.

Despite Chris Archer and Alex Cobb as the only starters to pitch into the seventh inning, the rotation is pitching to a 3.33 ERA, seventh best in the majors and fourth in the American League. Two interesting stats is that during the 1-6 road trip, the starters compiled a 2.86 ERA (34.2-IP, 11-ER) and Blake Snell who is off to an 0-2 start comes in with a 2.76 ERA, however he has given up 12 hits, with 10 walks in just 16.1 innings.

This brings us to the bullpen that is slowly becoming overworked. After 15 games, the bullpen has a pitching line of 2-4 with a 3.99 ERA (47.1 innings). They have given up 25 runs (21 earned runs), allowed 48 hits and five home runs, walked 17 and struck out 31 – however, Austin Pruitt has been responsible 12 runs (10 earned runs) 20 hits and has struck out just three in 5.2 innings pitched.

Tommy Hunter, Jumbo Diaz and Xavier Cedeno have all made seven appearances and have combined to throw 15 innings. Erasmo Ramirez has made five relief appearances and has already logged 9.2 innings, but one of the appearances he pitched four innings of relief.

Looking into the Rays situational hitting department, they continue to struggle with runners in scoring position hitting just .236 (30-for-127) with seven extra-base hits, which includes three home runs and a staggering 47 strikeouts (tops in the AL) with less than two outs.

The numbers fall even further with two outs, hitting .207 (12-for-58) with only three extra-base hits and 23 strikeouts (tops in the AL). However, they have succeeded when they have had a runner on third with less than two outs, batting .333 (9-for-27), however they have also struck out 10 times that is tops in the AL.

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A trend that is carrying over from last year is the solo home runs; of the 17 they have hit 10 are solo shots. They have also had five two-run homers, one three-run and one grand slam.

Overall, on the season after 15 games the Rays batting line stands at .247/.322/.402 with 17-HR, 60-RBIs, 21-2B, 3-3B (tied for the AL lead), and 55-BB (3rd in the AL, 5th in the majors). They have also stolen 10 bases (tied for 3rd in the AL), with just one caught stealing.

Hitting coach Chad Mottola can only do so much with the batters, the rest is up to the hitters. Maybe the work that Mottola has done with Souza, Morrison and Dickerson can make its way through the rest of the lineup. Then again, maybe manager Kevin Cash should leave well enough alone with his lineup and keep Kevin Kiermaier in the second hole. If it’s not broke, than do not fix it – even if it means facing a tough left-hander.

More on the Bullpen

The biggest issue though is not necessarily how the team is producing at the plate, but the problems with the bullpen. From the way things are looking, despite some offseason additions to help the bullpen, like the signing of Shawn Tolleson, or taking Kevin Gadea in the Rule 5 Draft have backfired. That plus the loss of Brad Boxberger has left the Rays in a deep hole.

Xavier Cedeno the only lefty in the pen has already blown three save opportunities, but more concerning is the fact he has not done the job. In seven appearances (1-1, 3.86, 2.1-IP) Cedeno has faced 16 batters (only eight outs), allowing four hits, four walks, two runs on four hits, and no strikeouts with opposing batters hitting .364.

During spring training Austin Pruitt, impressed Ray’s manager Kevin Cash with his ability to throw strikes, leading Cash to say, “It’s been exciting to watch him, not knowing him and then having him come in and compete the way he has, mound demeanor, stuff, everything really showed up well.”

Well, despite his on-going confidence in Austin Pruitt, Cash may need to make a decision sooner than later. Pruitt was lights out during spring training striking out 18 in 16.2 innings but has yet to come close to those numbers. No matter what type of situation Pruitt is being used, the results have been the same.

In his six appearances, Pruitt’s line stands at 0-0 with a 15.88 ERA (5.2-IP) having allowed 12 runs (10 earned) on 20 hits, with three strikeouts and three walks. Opposing batters cannot get into the box fast enough as they are hitting a whopping .541.

Speculation on my part is that Jaime Schultz would have earned the final bullpen spot; however, the Rays wanted to get him more innings as he is being converted from a starter to a reliever, with the transition starting last year. Meanwhile, Schultz is on the disabled list after sustaining a groin injury in his first appearances of the season.

On the other hand, Pruitt up until this year had never worked out of the bullpen, so maybe that and his age are other factors into making the 25-man roster.

Next: Strikeouts Are Killing the Rays

If all goes well, the Rays will get Colby Rasmus and Matt Duffy back from the DL in the next couple of weeks. Upon their arrival, numerous roster moves will be needed and maybe at this time, the Rays could find a way to address their bullpen issues. Unfortunately, for the Rays, it looks as though nothing is on the horizon at this time.

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