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Beleaguered bullpen steps up for Rays

Relievers provide some key moments in series-opening win at Fenway
@juanctoribio
July 31, 2019

BOSTON -- The Rays' bullpen has been under the microscope over the past month, as the unit has blown eight saves in July. Despite its recent struggles, the bullpen allowed just one run over 4 1/3 innings in the Rays’ big series-opening 6-5 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday

BOSTON -- The Rays' bullpen has been under the microscope over the past month, as the unit has blown eight saves in July.

Despite its recent struggles, the bullpen allowed just one run over 4 1/3 innings in the Rays’ big series-opening 6-5 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday at Fenway Park.

Box score

Adam Kolarek, Diego Castillo, Colin Poche, Chaz Roe, Oliver Drake and Emilio Pagán all pitched for the Rays, with Pagan locking down the four-out save by getting Christian Vazquez to fly out with runners on first and third to end the night.

Avisaíl García and Travis d'Arnaud led the way offensively for the Rays, who connected on at least 11 hits for the third consecutive night. Garcia delivered the go-ahead two-run double in the sixth inning, which ended up being enough for the Rays due to the strong effort by the bullpen.

Let’s take a look at three key moments from the Rays' pitching staff.

Pagan gets Devers to end the eighth
While getting Vazquez in the ninth sealed the game, Pagan’s performance against Rafael Devers in the eighth inning was the biggest at-bat of the game. Devers, who has a slugging percentage of .783 during his 10-game hitting streak, came up with the bases loaded and the Rays leading, 6-5.

Pagan had just given up an infield single to Mookie Betts to load the bases. The right-hander said that he wanted to throw his fastball, which he considers his best pitch, to Devers in that situation and live with the results.

“I felt good with my fastball,” Pagan said. “I’ve been beat on not going to my best pitch too often, and I just told myself if I’m going to get beat, I’m going with my best pitch.”

The right-hander did just that, attacking Devers with six straight fastballs before getting the left-hander to fly out to Austin Meadows in left field.

“I was able to put it in a spot where he couldn’t get the barrel to it,” Pagan said. “That was an intense at-bat.”

Poche gets Benintendi
Poche has been one of the Rays who has struggled in late-game situations over the past couple of weeks. But the left-hander stepped up in a big way on Tuesday, as manager Kevin Cash called on him to face Andrew Benintendi with runners on first and second and two outs in the seventh.

Poche, who is mostly a fastball pitcher, decided to switch things up, throwing a first-pitch slider to Benintendi that missed the zone. Poche bounced back and threw a fastball for a strike before going back to a slider, which surprised many, including Benintendi.

“Last time I faced him, I kind of came in with a similar situation and he was really aggressive first pitch and got a hit off me,” Poche said. “I wanted to start him off with a slider just out of the zone because I figured he would be aggressive. He took it, and then I threw another fastball to even the count, and then just felt like it was a good time to throw [the slider].”

Poche said he has been throwing the slider a lot more during bullpen sessions, and he hopes that it can get hitters guessing. But with a 1-2 count on Benintendi, Poche went back to a fastball up in the zone to record the strikeout and end the inning.

“Anytime I can change those percentages, that’ll be good,” Poche said. “Because you start to get them looking for sliders. If I can get them to a point where they’re wondering what pitch is coming, then we could be in a good position.”

Cash takes out Morton
Before the bullpen took center stage, Cash decided to pull starter Charlie Morton in the fifth inning at just 85 pitches. With the Rays up 5-4, Cash said he was playing the matchups and felt comfortable going with Kolarek to face Benintendi.

Morton said he was surprised to see Cash coming out to get him. The two exchanged a few words, and the conversation extended a bit once the two were in the dugout.

“I just want to pitch,” Morton said. “In those situations, I just want the ball. I got a guy on there and I need an out to get through that inning, and I want the ball. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.”

The move didn’t work out as Benintendi delivered a two-run home run off Kolarek on the first pitch thrown by the left-hander. After the game, Cash admitted that regardless of the result, he wished he had allowed Morton to finish the inning.

“He deserves that opportunity,” Cash said after the game. “And I wish I would’ve given it to him.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.