Davies boosts confidence with superb start vs. Rays

McGough takes loss after giving up three runs in ninth

June 29th, 2023

PHOENIX -- When first gets to the clubhouse every day, he sits down and meticulously fills out a USA Today crossword puzzle. It’s a diversion, but it also helps him determine how mentally locked in he is.

On Wednesday, prior to his start against the Rays, one answer in the puzzle stood out to him: step up. The clue was: Rise to the occasion.

Coming off a three-start stretch in which he allowed 21 runs (18 earned) with opponents hitting .396 against him, Davies did indeed step up and rise to the occasion, holding a dangerous Rays lineup to just two hits over seven shutout innings.

The start was a confidence builder for Davies and a much-needed boost for the Arizona rotation.

It was not, however, enough for the D-backs to get a win, as the Rays rallied for three runs off in the ninth to win, 3-2.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo talked before the game about how in his mind Arizona has three closers -- Miguel Castro, Andrew Chafin and McGough. Which one gets the ball in the ninth is determined by matchups.

On Wednesday, it was Castro who got the ball in the eighth with the D-backs holding a 2-0 lead, and he retired the side in order.

McGough got the ninth.

Signed by the D-backs in December after spending the past four seasons in Japan, McGough had a few rough outings early in the year, blowing three saves in his first 15 games. Since that time, though, he had been lights-out, compiling a 1.03 ERA in 21 games since his last blown save on May 2.

McGough’s location was off Wednesday, and the Rays made him pay with three straight singles to open the ninth, the last one driving home a run. After McGough got the next two batters out, Josh Lowe came to the plate for the Rays and Lovullo faced a decision.

Chafin, a lefty, was available in the 'pen to face the left-handed-hitting Lowe. But Lovullo felt if he went to Chafin, the Rays would certainly hit for Lowe, who struggles against lefties, with right-handers Harold Ramirez or Manuel Margot.

So he stuck with McGough, and Lowe drove a ball deep to the gap in left-center to score a pair of runs.

“It was a good matchup,” Lovullo said. “I believed in that matchup. You know, I'll play it over in my mind over and over and over again tonight and you'll just never know. Of course I’d take the other one, I’d take the Margot/Ramirez matchup against Chafin right now sitting in this seat knowing what I know, but that’s the beauty of the game.”

McGough, too, had a decision that he would like to have back.

With an 0-1 count on Lowe, catcher Carson Kelly called for McGough’s signature split-finger fastball, the pitch Lowe had swung through for strike one. Instead McGough went with a fastball.

“I shook to it and I thought it was going to be a good pitch,” McGough said. “Wanted to execute it up and it was a decent pitch, but he’s a good hitter. Should have listened to Carson on that one, I guess.”

While Lovullo said the loss felt like “chewing on lemons,” he was pleased with the way Davies looked. Especially with Merrill Kelly missing at least two weeks with a blood clot in his lower right leg, the D-backs will need Davies to, well, step up.

“It was nice to figure things out and feel comfortable out there again,” Davies said. "Just one of those confidence builders. I know that the work is not done; it's been a few games of struggles, but it's nice to feel like I've got somewhere to start. It kind of flushes the previous games away. It gives you that confidence going to the next one that you still know what you're doing.”