ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays arrived from New York at about 3:30 a.m. ET Friday and they certainly played like a team that was just a couple of steps slow in the 9-2 loss to the White Sox at Tropicana Field.
Brendan McKay had been as good as advertised in his first three career big league starts, but against Chicago the left-hander struggled for the first time in the Majors, allowing six runs (five earned) in just 3 1/3 innings.
But while McKay labored to get results on the mound, he was hurt by some defensive mistakes that cost the Rays four runs in the first two frames. In the first inning, Jose Abreu drove a 109.7-mph grounder in Michael Brosseau’s direction, but the rookie was unable to make a play, and the White Sox took a 1-0 lead.
“[McKay] wasn’t as sharp as what we’ve seen,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “But you can make the argument that the first three or four runs maybe shouldn’t have come across. But give the White Sox credit, they hit the ball hard.”
The defensive struggles continued in the second inning. Joey Wendle appeared to be just a step slow in getting to an Adam Engel grounder that would’ve ended the inning, but Engel, displaying an elite sprint speed of 31.6 ft./sec., was able to beat the throw at first base.
On the following play, miscommunication in the outfield between Austin Meadows and Brosseau resulted in Leury Garcia reaching second with a double after the ball landed between the two defenders. The ball had an expected batting average of just .040.
“I had a little bit of trouble seeing, especially early on,” Meadows said. “It was just tough to see especially that fly ball to right, the shallow one, but it is what it is.”
Instead of the inning ending with the two teams tied at 1, the miscues propelled the White Sox to a three-run inning and a 4-1 lead. The game didn’t get any cleaner for Tampa Bay, as McKay allowed two more runs in the fourth inning and Colin Poche got tagged for two more in the fifth.
Despite the sloppy play, Rays players said that the travel didn’t affect the way they performed on Friday night, and they mostly credited the White Sox, who finished with 16 hits, for just playing better than they did throughout the game.
“Just part of the game,” Meadows said on the travel. “They hit the ball well tonight and we didn’t have many timely hits and that’s just kind of the way the game goes.”
One encouraging takeaway was Wendle’s night at the plate. Wendle, who finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting after hitting .300 last season, went 2-for-4 with two doubles and made hard contact throughout the night.
“Nice to see and maybe he gets going offensively because he was such a big part for us last year,” Cash said. “We know he’s capable of doing that again.”
The Rays have lost four straight games, matching their longest losing streak of the season. With the A’s beating the Twins on Friday, the Rays are now one game behind Oakland for the second American League Wild Card spot.
But even with the recent challenges, Cash and the Rays remain confident of the roster inside the clubhouse. However, they all understand that they need to turn things around sooner rather than later.
“We have a lot of talent in that room and we’re going to be just fine,” Cash said. “I know we got beat up in New York and today we didn’t play our best, but bet on these guys to turn it around real quick.”