Strong pitching undone by Rays' quiet bats

July 31st, 2020

Through six games this season, the Rays’ offense had been a bright spot and looked like a unit that can help the team compete in the American League. But for the first time in the short season, Tampa Bay’s bats were held quiet in a 2-1 loss to the Braves on Thursday at Truist Park.

The Rays’ offense entered the series finale having scored at least four runs in each of its first six games, and it led the AL with 37 runs. Tampa Bay was also fourth in the AL with a .757 OPS.

On Thursday, however, the Rays couldn’t get much going against Braves left-hander Max Fried. Fried retired the first 14 batters he faced before Mike Brosseau broke up his perfect game bid with a two-out single in the fifth.

“He was aggressive, and he was throwing a lot of strikes,” said Rays shortstop Willy Adames. “We just let him get that confidence. He was mixing pitches really well. I thought his offspeed was amazing today and his pitch count was not a big thing for him. He had a pretty good game, and we couldn’t attack him and try to take him out of the game early.”

Fried kept the Braves off-balance by combining a fastball, a curveball and a slider, and he limited the Rays to just three hard-hit balls (exit velocity greater than 95 mph). It wasn’t until the seventh inning that Tampa Bay’s bats were able to get a run against Fried, when Adames hit a two-out double that ended Fried’s night, then Ji-Man Choi connected for a pinch-hit RBI single off Braves reliever Luke Jackson to cut the deficit to 2-1. But the Rays were unable to tie the game against Atlanta’s bullpen.

“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating, because we’ve been swinging the bat pretty good,” Adames said. “We just let Fried get his timing good, and he was dealing tonight. We let him get that confidence. … Those games are going to happen. I guess we have to be more aggressive.”

Though the offense was held in check by Fried, Ryan Yarbrough kept the Rays in the game and continues to be a bright spot in the early going. Yarbrough solidified his spot in the rotation with another sharp outing, allowing just two runs over 6 1/3 innings -- the longest outing by a Tampa Bay pitcher this season. The Braves were able to score both runs in the second inning, but the Rays left-hander was in control most of the night.

“We all thought he was outstanding,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Base hit, then hit by pitch, and then they capitalize and get two runs, and then [Yarbrough] just went into shutdown mode.”

Despite Fried’s performance, the Rays had a chance to tie the game in the ninth inning. Brandon Lowe hit a one-out single, then he was replaced by pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier. Opposing runners were 3-for-3 on steal attempts against Braves reliever Mark Melancon, so it was clear that Kiermaier was going to be running on the play.

That was the case as Kiermaier took off for second, but he was thrown out by Tyler Flowers as the Rays center fielder appeared to be caught in the middle and didn’t fully slide into second base. Kiermaier took responsibility after the game, saying that he didn’t slide because he thought Hunter Renfroe had fouled the pitch.

“I did what you can’t do and assumed,” Kiermaier said. “I thought I heard the crack of the bat, and it was his glove. That’s the honest truth, but that doesn’t make it any better. Terrible job on my part, to be quite honest. That can’t happen.”

Overall, the two-game set in Atlanta was an uncharacteristic one for the Rays. They had baserunning mistakes and defensive lapses, and the offense was shut down aside from a three-run sixth on Wednesday. The team will look to rebound on Friday as it starts a three-game series against the Orioles.

“Our offense is going to be fine,” Cash said. “We’re going to come around, and we’ll get going.”