Rays draw on their brand of baseball to return to win column

April 16th, 2023

TORONTO -- In a contest billed as a battle of ace pitchers, the Rays’ offense stole the show.

From the first inning onward on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre, Tampa Bay was all over Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah. Walks led to early runs, and by the time the game reached the fifth, the Rays punctuated their 8-1 win with a parade of hard contact.

After two quick strikeouts, Manoah’s fire on the mound gave way to frustration. And when the right-hander grooved a slider to in the top of the fifth, his day got even worse. Bethancourt turned on the ball and roasted it into the left-field seats for a three-run bomb that helped the Rays dodge a series sweep and prompted the Blue Jays to yank Manoah early.

The Rays returned to their brand of baseball in Sunday’s win. They never pressed and found ways to capitalize on scoring situations. The visitors’ patient approach against Manoah wasn’t overly cerebral, but when he made mistake pitches, he got punished for it. As Rays manager Kevin Cash put it, his team wasn’t lucky -- it created its own breaks.

“We had really good at-bats early on against Manoah,” Cash said. “He’s really good, but the strike-throwing wasn’t there. We didn’t seem to help him out very much. That’s tough to do, because he’s so deceptive, so a lot of good at-bats early [were important] to drive his pitch count up.”

Credit Bethancourt for the game-clinching homer, but was the underrated star of the afternoon. His two-run bloop single got the Rays ahead early, and he also connected on an RBI double in Tampa Bay’s four-run fifth inning.

“I think that was a big momentum shift for the whole game,” Lowe said of his run-scoring single in the first frame.

After Sunday, Lowe’s OPS stands at 1.123 -- and for a 25-year-old who slashed just .225/.292/.346 before this year, it’s a mighty step in the right direction.

“I just told [Lowe] that he had a hell of a day,” said Rays starter , who picked up his fourth win of the season. “It’s been awesome to see. I love the way Josh plays the game and it’s only up from here. He’s getting a chance and he’s taking full advantage.”

As McClanahan put it, Lowe’s showing he belongs in the big leagues, and everyone is noticing. According to Cash, an increase in confidence has made Lowe a better player.

The outfielder, meanwhile, attributed his own success to a sense of comfort within the Rays’ clubhouse.

“These are not only my teammates, but my friends,” Lowe said. “And it feels like a family in here. Just having fun and doing it every single day.”

Once Tampa Bay claimed the lead, McClanahan handled the rest. The left-hander overcame a bumpy first inning to motor through the Blue Jays’ order several times, reinforcing his status as one of baseball’s superstar arms.

His six innings of one-run ball went a long way to keeping Tampa Bay’s bullpen fresh -- which Cash appreciated -- but the club will have to answer some rotation questions ahead of a four-game road series against the Reds. , and are all out with injuries, leaving it up to the Rays’ depth arms to chip in.

Thanks to the organization’s track record on pitching development, McClanahan has faith in the Rays’ ability to fill those holes in the rotation.

“I can’t say enough good things, because whenever [the call-ups] get here, it seems like it goes off without a hitch,” McClanahan said. “Those guys are ready, and they’re ready to help this team win in any way possible.”

Right now, the club isn’t stressed about the pitching situation. After two losses disrupted their 13-game win streak, the Rays are happy to be moving in the right direction again.

“You never want to leave a series not getting a win,” Lowe said. “So for us to do that today and head out to Cincinnati on a good note, that’s good for all of us.”