The Rays don’t make reactionary decisions very often, as manager Kevin Cash said after a 5-1 loss to the Mariners on Friday night. So no, they’re not going to let one rough start shape their view of right-hander Michael Wacha. And no, they’re not going to lose faith after losing their fourth game in a row.
But Wacha’s return to Tampa Bay’s rotation admittedly did not go as planned, and the Rays would like to get some momentum back on their side after matching their longest losing streak of the season on a quiet night for their lineup at T-Mobile Park.
“Nothing’s going to change from our mental standpoint,” outfielder Brett Phillips said. “We're going to come out here and just continue to grind at-bats. Pitching has done great for us all year. They're going to continue to do great for us. It's just a little dry spell.”
Wacha was the Rays’ first choice to replace the injured Tyler Glasnow on their starting staff, bouncing back into the rotation after a stint on the 10-day injured list followed by a stretch in which he worked as an opener and a reliever. The Rays know it will take time for Wacha to work his way back into a starting role, considering he hasn’t held down a set role since early May, and he’ll need a few outings to rebuild his arm strength so that he can handle a traditional starter’s workload.
But Wacha’s first crack at replacing Glasnow didn’t inspire much confidence, as he was hit early and often and didn’t seem to be fooling Seattle’s lineup. Wacha gave up five runs on 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings, with most of the damage coming right away.
The Mariners strung together six hits in a four-run, nine-batter, 27-pitch first inning when they didn’t swing and miss once. Five of those six hits were singles, frequently beating the Rays’ defensive shifts with knocks up the middle or to the opposite field, but Wacha’s inability to put away hitters left him frustrated.
Wacha induced only three swinging strikes on the 77 pitches he threw and struck out only two of the 22 batters he faced. The veteran right-hander said his stuff wasn’t the sharpest it’s been all season, but he thought he had enough to get the job done. His location just wasn’t where it needed to be.
“They definitely hit the pitches where they were pitched. If it was in, they pulled it. If it was away, they went with it,” Wacha said. “Credit to those guys. They had a good approach going in there. They found the holes, found the open spots and were able to put them there. I’ve got to do a better job making those two-strike pitches whenever I do get in those counts.”
Perhaps that was to be expected given how inconsistent Wacha’s work has been lately. He hadn’t worked more than three innings since April 27, which was also the last time he threw more than 48 pitches. Now, the Rays are asking him to get back into a routine as a starter, and they know that might not happen immediately.
“I was happy to see 'Wach' get his pitches up a little bit. We all want to see him do well, and he's fully capable of doing well,” Cash said. “Tonight just wasn't our night, and the Mariners came out swinging the bat really, really well.”
The Rays’ bullpen held the Mariners in check the rest of the night, with Collin McHugh carrying the load in a three-inning outing, but Tampa Bay’s lineup went quiet after Manuel Margot began the game with a leadoff single off Yusei Kikuchi and scored on a groundout by Yandy Díaz.
Kikuchi settled down after that, allowing only four hits and three walks while striking out six over seven innings. The left-hander’s shutdown outing continued an unfortunate theme for the Rays, who have struggled to put any sort of consistent pressure on opposing southpaws.
When Kikuchi exited the game, the Rays owned a .219/.298/.362 slash line against left-handed pitchers this season. Their .660 OPS against lefties ranked 27th in the Majors, ahead of only the Rangers, Pirates and Tigers.
“He looked really tough from the side,” Cash said. “It was just a tough night. Their guy pitched really well.”
The Rays have dropped four straight games -- matching their season-long losing streak from April 3-7 -- following a hot stretch in which they won 24 of 29 games. Two of those losses came in walk-off fashion not long after they received the news that they’d have to move forward without Glasnow, their ace, for the foreseeable future.
It’s all added up to make for a long week on the road, but the Rays still have two more days to turn it around before heading home.
“We've lost four in a row, but I think momentum is still there. How we're playing baseball, you watch us play, we're never out of it,” Phillips said. “Come back out here tomorrow and play as if we're on a 10-game win streak. Nothing's going to change.”