Civale, Ramírez come through despite Rays' 11-inning loss

May 26th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays are searching for something to feel good about right now. Anything that can serve as a beacon of light in what has been a dreary week.

There were positives for the Rays on the mound and at the plate during Saturday’s 7-4 loss against the Royals at Tropicana Field. But the end result remained the same for the sixth straight game: A loss. If anything, this one might have stung a little harder as Tampa Bay’s defeat came in 11 innings.

“Very frustrating,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Not something that we want to dwell on and continue to have these conversations. Would rather be talking about wins, but right now, they are tough to come by.”

The Rays did get an encouraging sign from starting pitcher , who turned in his best performance in more than a month. Over his previous six turns, the right-hander had logged an 8.48 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP across 28 2/3 innings. He bounced back against Kansas City, allowing only two runs on four hits and one walk over five frames.

And Civale seemed to get stronger as he got deeper into the game, which has been a rarity for him this season. Not only was he throwing harder -- his velocity was up by 1-2 mph on a few of his pitches compared to their season averages -- but he permitted only one baserunner and no runs over his final two innings. The last time he went unscathed in the fourth and fifth innings prior to Saturday was April 3. Hitters were 32-for-85 (.376) with a 1.073 OPS versus Civale in those two innings over his previous eight starts.

Civale said he didn’t feel like he did anything too different on Saturday compared to his previous performances. He just stayed true to what he does best: mixing pitches effectively.

“I felt like I mixed both fastballs in there, both breaking balls and just did a good job of attacking,” Civale said.

His most effective pitch was his cutter, which Cash referred to as Civale’s “bread and butter.” While throwing that pitch 1.4 mph harder than his season average, Civale did a good job of spotting his cutter on the corner or just off the plate outside to right-handed hitters. The hardest-hit ball against that pitch was only 86.3 mph.

“When he's got [the cutter] going, he can pop the occasional sinker into the righties or the big 12-6 curveball,” Cash said. “But he lives with that cutter quite a bit and if he's commanding like that, he’s going to have a lot of good outings.”

Offensively, the Rays received good signs from first baseman Jonathan Aranda and outfielder . Aranda, who didn’t make his season debut until May 14 after suffering a broken right ring finger during Spring Training, unloaded for a 416-foot homer in the fourth inning, his first dinger of the year.

“That made me feel like I’m 100%,” Aranda said through team interpreter Manny Navarro.

Then, with the Rays trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Ramírez came to the plate as a pinch-hitter with runners on first and second and one out. The 29-year-old, who had an .813 OPS last season but came into Saturday with a .586 OPS in 141 at-bats, hadn’t played in a game since May 18.

After waiting for so long to get an opportunity, Ramírez pounced on the first pitch he saw from reliever Angel Zerpa and lined it into right-center for a game-tying single.

“I really felt very nervous when I [went to the plate], like it’s my first at-bat in the big leagues,” Ramírez said. “But I just said I’m going to look for a good pitch and swing.”

Both teams scored in the 10th before the Royals broke through in the 11th off right-hander Richard Lovelady, the Rays’ eighth pitcher of the night.

“It’s tough,” Lovelady said. “We fought all game. [Civale] did just all we asked for. Give it to the bullpen, hand it off to the next guy, and it’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get it done.”