The Rays had played eight straight games decided by two runs or fewer heading into Friday night. Even as they struggled to scrape together runs, their pitching kept every game close.
Having lost five of eight games so far on this 10-game homestand, the Rays fell back below .500 at 13-14.
“I think it was just a culmination of nothing really got going on either side today,” Yarbrough said. “But at the same time, we understand that this is still April -- the end of April. We have a long season to go, so I don't think anyone's trying to get too crazy and trying to reinvent the wheel here. We understand that we have a really good ballclub here, and it's just one of those weird stretches we're in right now.”
And it’s been a particularly rough stretch for the Rays lineup. They couldn’t do anything Friday night to get to right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. or get out of their team-wide offensive funk. McCullers, a Tampa native, allowed only three hits and three walks while striking out nine in seven innings of work.
Through eight games on this homestand, the Rays have scored only 19 runs with 51 hits and 23 walks while striking out 84 times and batting just .089 (5-for-56) with runners in scoring position. Much has been made of their struggles with runners in scoring position lately -- they have only three hits in their last 50 at-bats in those situations -- but they had trouble just getting runners to second base, much less home, against McCullers.
The Rays had two runners on with two outs in the third after a pair of walks, but McCullers struck out Brandon Lowe to end the inning. Lowe created their only other scoring opportunity against the right-hander, ripping a one-out double to left-center in the sixth, but Yandy Díaz flied out to right and Joey Wendle went down swinging to leave Lowe stranded.
“I think everybody wants to go up there and snap out of it and do something to help the team win,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It's not easy for them right now -- for any of us.”
Tampa Bay avoided its second shutout of the season in the ninth, loading the bases with a single and two walks against Andre Scrubb. After Yoshi Tsutsugo popped out, shortstop Willy Adames -- 0-for-25 with two walks in his previous 27 plate appearances -- knocked a two-run single to shallow center field.
Even that was a relief for Adames, whose last hit came on April 20 in Kansas City.
“It’s been a while,” Adames said. “It felt so good. I kind of missed touching first base.”
But Adames is hardly the only one struggling. Wendle, Francisco Mejía and Randy Arozarena are their only hitters currently batting above .250, and the only three players with an OPS above .770 are Wendle, Mejía and Mike Zunino. The Rays remain confident that they’re better than they’ve been so far, and Adames took the optimistic view that it’s better to struggle early so they can get it figured out for later in the season.
“It's a tough moment right now as a team. The hitting is not there. We're trying to figure it out,” Adames said. “We're trying to make things happen, but it's not going our way now. But I believe in our guys. … We just have to make it as soon as possible to start helping the pitchers and to try to start winning games.”
The Rays’ offensive struggles were at least somewhat obscured lately by their pitching, as they had allowed three runs or fewer in each of their last six games, their longest streak since late May 2019. But that run came to an end early on Friday. Yarbrough gave up a first-inning run on three singles before the Astros strung together four straight hits, including a no-doubt two-run homer by Alex Bregman, in a three-run third.
Yarbrough allowed one more run in the fourth when Astros catcher Martín Maldonado reached on a leadoff triple and scored on a single by Michael Brantley, who finished 4-for-5 on the night. He hung around to throw 103 pitches in six innings and retired each of the last eight hitters he faced, doing his best to avoid stressing the Rays bullpen during a 17-game stretch without an off-day to provide rest.
“They found some holes, and then kind of the hard-hit balls followed with some guys on base. I thought Yarbs, stuff wise, looked fairly consistent with where he's been all year,” Cash said. “It's just a really good lineup over there. They just don't swing and miss very much, and when they do swing, it seems like they find a way to hit the ball pretty hard.”