After 244 Major League appearances as a reliever, Jonny Venters made his first career start, serving as the Rays' "opener." The veteran left-hander entered the game on a roll, riding a streak of nine consecutive scoreless appearances to make the historic start -- the first pitcher in Major League history to start a game after three Tommy John surgeries (2005, '13 and '14).
"Just didn't get it done," Venters said. "... Was disappointing. Didn't do my job today. It happens. I don't think the role had anything to do with it. I just didn't pitch well. Put my team in a 5-0 hole in the first inning. Tough to come back from. Let the guys down, but I'll try to go out tomorrow and get a win."
Ryan Yarbrough took over as planned, and he allowed five runs (four earned) on 10 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings.
"Kind of felt like I got in a groove and things kind of fell apart there at the end," Yarbrough said. "... Just a lot of battling today."
Tampa Bay is now 3-5 in games in which it has strategically started a reliever before bringing in a starter/long man to pitch the bulk of the game, which begs the question of whether the experiment will continue much longer.
"Whenever they call my name down in the bullpen, whatever situation it is from starting, coming out of the 'pen in the first or second, I'm just trying to come in and do my job," said Yarbrough, who is fine with the Rays' pitching arrangement. "Go late into the game and stay in there as long as possible. … I'm just trying to do whatever they tell me to do. Just trying to help the team out any way possible."
Venters sounded on board, too.
"I feel like it's worked out fairly well," Venters said. "It's obviously something new, and we'll see how it plays out. All I can say is it didn't affect me. ... They called my name and I didn't get the job done. It just happened to be in the first inning instead of later in the game."
Manager Kevin Cash was asked if the Rays had collected enough data to make any kind of decision to change the plan.
"Probably not," Cash said. "I don't think so. I can be completely candid and honest. When it works, it feels pretty good when it's happening. But when it doesn't, it's pretty gut wrenching. Because you sit there and say, 'Yeah, you're taking two guys out of a spot, you're asking two guys to do something differently.'
"So we're all human in this. And, you know, you care about emotions, feelings, thoughts and all of that. Today was one of those gut-wrenching days. It didn't go our way and smacked us right in the face. One bad outing, one bad whatever you want to call it. I don't think it's fair to get away from it."
C.J. Cron homered off Nationals starter Tanner Roark for his 13th of the season. It was one of the Rays' seven hits on the day.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED Yarbrough, who took over from Venters in the first, intentionally walked Pedro Severino to load the bases with two outs in the first, forcing Roark to hit. The strategy backfired when Roark laced a single to right to drive home two and give the Nationals a 5-0 lead.
CASTILLO DEBUT Diego Castillo, 24, made his Major League debut Wednesday and looked dazzling. The Dominican right-hander entered the game in the bottom of the seventh. After retiring Severino on a groundout, he struck out Brian Goodwin and Trea Turner to end the inning.
Castillo's performance "was probably the highlight of the day," Cash said. "The stuff I've seen, so we pretty much knew what we were getting. But just the demeanor on the mound. ... Coming off the mound, acting like he'd already done it 50 times this year. You'd rather him have it that way than the other. We know how special he has a chance to be in the back end of our bullpen. I was happy we had an opportunity to get him in for an inning."
HE SAID IT "When I came to the game, yes. But when I go in the game, no." -- Castillo, when asked if he was nervous
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY Tampa Bay challenged a call in the fourth when Bryce Harper was called safe at second base after tripping en route to the base. Harper's helmet flew off and his hair flopped forward as he attempted to reach the base safely without getting tagged. Following a review of 36 seconds, the call was overturned and Harper was ruled out.
UP NEXT Ryne Stanek will serve as the Rays' "opener" when they begin a four-game series against the Mariners with a 7:10 p.m. ET contest Thursday at Tropicana Field. Six of Stanek's past seven appearances have been scoreless. Mike Leake will start for Seattle.