Fairbanks ready to get back on the bump after blown save

April 18th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- glanced at the digital clock in the home clubhouse at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night. It was 9:44 p.m. The Rays’ closer vowed not to beat himself up over the blown save that turned a second straight comeback victory by the Rays into a frustrating, 5-4 loss to the Angels at Tropicana Field.

But he wasn’t quite there yet.

“I’ll maybe give it ‘til 10,” Fairbanks said. “We’ll give it 16 minutes of sulk, and then we’ll get back on the bump and figure it out.”

Fairbanks is searching for answers amid an uncharacteristically rough start to the season. It seemed like he had been righting the ship a bit lately, picking up three straight saves and making three consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run. Then it all came undone Wednesday night.

The hard-throwing right-hander gave up two runs and three hits, walked a pair of batters and couldn’t help catcher René Pinto as the Angels stole two bases against them in the ninth inning. He walked off the mound with a blown save, two losses and a 9.00 ERA.

“I thought it generally sucked. I didn't think it was a specific suck. I thought it was like an all-encompassing type of suck,” Fairbanks said. “We're gonna try to rectify that, but for right now, I'm gonna be pretty pissed about it.”

The context of Wednesday’s performance made it even more aggravating for the Rays. They had been 9-0 this season when leading after eight innings, and they were 8-1 when scoring at least four runs.

They entered the eighth trailing by a run. Isaac Paredes kept the inning alive with a two-out single to center field, then Amed Rosario -- who finished Tuesday’s 13-inning marathon with a walk-off infield single -- unloaded on Hunter Strickland’s first-pitch fastball and sent it a projected 398 feet to left-center field for a go-ahead, two-run homer.

That gave the Rays their first lead of the night, but it didn’t last long.

“Rosie, that felt like back-to-back nights he was gonna come up really big for us,” Cash said. “Huge home run in the moment, but we just came up short.”

Three outs from securing the Rays’ second straight dramatic comeback win, Fairbanks retired the first batter of the ninth then gave up a single to Nolan Schanuel, who was replaced by pinch-runner Jo Adell. Zach Neto walked, then Adell stole third on Pinto before Neto swiped second.

“When a guy gets on base, and it's a tight ballgame, we've got to find a way to limit their opportunities of advancing 90 feet,” Cash said.

Anthony Rendon promptly swatted a single to left, which scored Adell and initially appeared to drive in Neto as the go-ahead run. But the Rays challenged the call at the plate, it was overturned, and Neto was ruled out to keep the game tied.

With first base open, the Rays intentionally walked Mike Trout -- but the next batter made them pay as Taylor Ward smacked the game-winning single to right.

“Just not doing what I'm good at,” Fairbanks said. “Then you just compound that, and that's when you get beat by the one that flips over the infield.”

The Rays threw their support behind Fairbanks after the game, expressing confidence that their closer will return to elite form soon enough. With a 2.66 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 147 appearances from 2020-23, the 30-year-old has been among the game’s most dominant late-inning arms when healthy the past few years.

“Pete showed every year for the last couple of years that he's got electric stuff and belongs in the back end,” said Rays starter Zack Littell, who struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings while throwing a career-high 107 pitches. “I wouldn't expect to see that Pete very long.”

Control is the main culprit, as Fairbanks has thrown 58.6% of his pitches for strikes -- down about 10% from the past two years. He’s walked eight batters and given up eight runs (seven earned) in eight appearances this season.

“The stuff looked good,” Cash said. “The command's not as crisp as when he's right. It's just not coming out and finding the zone as many times as it probably should.”

The Rays expect better out of their bullpen, too. The group was thought to be the strength of the team in Spring Training, and it now owns a Major League-worst 6.23 ERA after 19 games.

“Without a doubt this group is too good, too talented to stay at this inconsistent pace that we're at,” Cash said. “I really believe in this group, and for good reason. They've got a track record of being really successful. It's just not happening right now.”