Bullpen woes, rare mistakes cost Rays in loss

July 30th, 2020

Through five games, Rays relievers have shown why they are regarded as one of the best units in the Majors. But Wednesday’s 7-4 loss to the Braves at Truist Park served as a reminder that even the Tampa Bay bullpen won’t always get the job done.

“Definitely uncharacteristic,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash of his bullpens performance. “We just couldn’t put guys away. Credit them for standing there on the at-bats, and they put it to us that inning.”

The Rays’ bullpen entered Wednesday’s game having allowed eight runs over 26 2/3 innings of work, but the group gets much more efficient when you take away Jalen Beeks and Trevor Richards, who are mostly working as bulk relievers as the starters continue to build stamina after a condensed Summer Camp. Without them, the Rays’ main relief corps entered Wednesday having allowed just one run over 18 2/3 innings of work -- good for a 0.48 ERA.

After jumping out to a 4-2 lead on Wednesday, thanks to a three-run sixth inning, Rays manager Kevin Cash called on Andrew Kittredge to pitch the bottom half of the sixth. Kittredge was warming up in the top of the sixth with the Rays down 2-1, but Cash said the next half inning was Kittredge’s inning, regardless of the score.

The right-hander, however, wasn’t able to execute a pair of sliders that he left up to Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson, and both were knocked into the outfield grass for a pair of doubles.

Oliver Drake followed Kittredge, and it looked like he had a chance to escape the threat after striking out Ronald Acuña Jr. for the second out. But a tough play in the shift for Willy Adames allowed Ozzie Albies to reach with an infield single, tying the game at 4. Freddie Freeman, who tormented the Rays with four hits on Wednesday, got the Braves out in front, 5-4, with an RBI single to center off Drake. In the seventh, the Braves were able to tack on two runs off José Alvarado.

“With how nasty our pitchers are, we feel good [about being up 4-2 in the sixth],” Kiermaier said. “It doesn’t matter who you put in there, our guys are that nasty, and every now and then, you’re going to get got. The Braves put together some really good at-bats, and that was kind of the answer they needed to try and win the game, and they did just that.”

The pitching struggles were uncharacteristic for the Rays, but so were a pair of defensive lapses by Kiermaier and Adames. Kiermaier had a rare misplay in center that allowed Johan Camargo to be awarded a double. Adames’ bad throw on a grounder also allowed the Braves to get another run in the seventh. Both players, who are legitimate Gold Glove Award candidates, both said they should’ve made their respective plays.

“We’re going to trust both those guys’ defensive ability,” Cash said. “They’ve shown it time and time again that you want the next ball hit right to them because you know they’re going to make the play.”

Overall, the game unraveled quickly for the Rays, who traveled to Atlanta early Wednesday morning, which is unusual for a team. Typically, the Rays would have flown following Tuesday night’s game, but with teams prioritizing spending as little time as possible on the road this season, the Rays decided to travel on the same day as the game.

The team didn’t use the trip as an excuse on Wednesday, instead saying it just needed to play better in the series finale against the Braves on Thursday. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Rays.

“We’re feeling good about ourselves,” Kiermaier said. “Games like tonight are going to happen, and it’s a learning experience. We’ll sleep on it and come back tomorrow and try to win the series.”