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The most pressing question facing Rays

While the Yanks and Red Sox look to add, the other three will weigh offers for current stars
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

The decision-makers for each team are entering the busy season, and their phones should be buzzing with possibilities. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, and the buyers and sellers are crystal clear in the American League East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in search of the final pieces that can turn their already strong squads into juggernauts, while the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays will likely look to turn enticing trade chips into future gains.

The decision-makers for each team are entering the busy season, and their phones should be buzzing with possibilities. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, and the buyers and sellers are crystal clear in the American League East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in search of the final pieces that can turn their already strong squads into juggernauts, while the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays will likely look to turn enticing trade chips into future gains.

• Non-waiver Trade Deadline explained

Here are the key questions for all five AL East clubs as the Deadline draws near.

BLUE JAYS
The question: Will Josh Donaldson recoup enough value in the coming weeks to justify a trade prior to the Deadline?

Donaldson hasn't played since May 28 because of a sore left calf muscle. Before that, a right shoulder injury caused him to miss three weeks in April. As a result, Donaldson has just five home runs and 16 RBIs as the end of June quickly approaches.

The 2015 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner is expected to return soon, but he'll need to bounce back in a hurry if the Blue Jays want to jumpstart a potential rebuild with a big July trade. A qualifying offer at the end of the year remains a possibility, but if Toronto can get a haul for Donaldson before the Deadline, that's the course of action it is expected to take.

ORIOLES
The question: Will superstar Manny Machado be traded?

Machado is a hot commodity on a last-place team, so it seems like a no-brainer that he will be moved. But it's not necessarily a sure thing, as the O's didn't like any of the offers they received during the offseason for their prized shortstop, who can be a free agent after the season.

So what will it take? Young, controllable talent -- preferably pitching -- is what Baltimore wanted last offseeason. Given that Machado is essentially a rental for the team that acquires him, the Orioles won't get an organization-changing haul, but there still will be a lot of pressure to get something of substance in return. Further complicating matters is that O's vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is also in the final year of his contact.

Video: MLB Tonight on the D-backs' interest in Machado

RAYS
The question: Will Chris Archer get traded?

Archer, who is on the disabled list with a left abdominal strain, has a deal that pays him $6.4 million this season and $7.7 million in 2019, which is relatively affordable compared to other pitchers of a similar talent level. So the question is, will Archer be healthy by the time the Deadline rolls around, and if he is, can the Rays find a suitable trade partner who values the right-hander enough to part with the prospect haul that they would want in return?

Of course, a trade for Archer, who is one of Tampa Bay's most popular players, would further signal the Rays' decision to get younger, which could have an adverse effect on the team's efforts to get public funding for a new stadium.

RED SOX
The question: Will the Red Sox get another impact arm in 'pen?

In his first two pennant races running Boston's front office, vice president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski bolstered his bullpen. In 2016, the Red Sox got Brad Ziegler, and he helped the team win the AL East. Addison Reed was similarly effective in helping Boston close out the division last year. With Carson Smith out for the season after injuring his shoulder and Tyler Thornburg still an uncertainty in his rehab from thoracic outlet syndrome, Dombrowski is likely going to have to hit the bullpen market again.

A power left-hander would be a particularly good fit for manager Alex Cora, considering all his best relief arms are right-handed. The cost for Padres southpaw Brad Hand could be exorbitant, but Dombrowski will stay in touch with San Diego all the way up to July 31. Baltimore's Zach Britton is another possibility.

YANKEES
The question: Can they add a starting pitcher?

General manager Brian Cashman has been searching for a starter since the offseason, when the team settled for re-signing CC Sabathia to a one-year contract with a belief that they could upgrade in late July if necessary. As anticipated, the rotation has proven to be a concern, with second-year lefty Jordan Montgomery out for the year due to Tommy John surgery and right-hander Masahiro Tanaka expected to miss a month after straining both hamstrings while running the bases in a game against the Mets.

Video: NYY@NYM: Tanaka feels stiffness in legs after scoring

The Yankees have patched things together by summoning righties Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga from the Minors, but with a postseason berth in sight, Cashman is open to dipping into the club's prospect reserves to add a stabilizing veteran like the Rangers' Cole Hamels or the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ. Cashman recently said that he has touched base with 20 of the 29 other clubs on some level, a number that will certainly inch closer to 29 as July 31 nears.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays

Duffy thriving after missing entire 2017 season

Third baseman out of lineup Wednesday to get two days 'off his feet'
MLB.com @wwchastain

HOUSTON -- Rays third baseman Matt Duffy entered Wednesday with the sixth-highest batting average in the American League at .317, which is quite a marvel after he missed all of 2017 with a left heel injury.

Fortunately for Duffy and the Rays, he's been healthy this season. With Thursday's off-day, manager Kevin Cash saw the opportunity to rest Duffy for two consecutive days and opted to sit his third baseman Wednesday night.

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HOUSTON -- Rays third baseman Matt Duffy entered Wednesday with the sixth-highest batting average in the American League at .317, which is quite a marvel after he missed all of 2017 with a left heel injury.

Fortunately for Duffy and the Rays, he's been healthy this season. With Thursday's off-day, manager Kevin Cash saw the opportunity to rest Duffy for two consecutive days and opted to sit his third baseman Wednesday night.

View Full Game Coverage

"Any time we can rest Matt for two days, I think it's probably a good thing for him getting him off his feet," Cash said. "Overall taking care of him with the time that he missed last year."

Cash called it surprising, but not surprising, that Duffy has returned played well after missing an entire season.

"It's not surprising, because he's had the track record of doing it before," Cash said. "But any time you get a player that takes off that much time, pitcher, hitter, it doesn't matter. To get back in that rhythm and then perform at such a high level, I think it's a huge credit to Matt and the way he prepares and how hard he worked during the offseason, and then the way he continues to prepare throughout the season."

Video: TB@NYY: Duffy belts a solo homer to left field

Duffy said he "couldn't be happier" with his health, but having two consecutive days off gives him a chance to "get my feet back under me."

"When I have a second off-day in a row, you almost feel like it's Opening Day again," Duffy said.

As for his performance so far this season, Duffy said he had confidence in himself.

"Taking a year off, it's more on the body catching up," Duffy said. "Once you get some games under your belt, you kind of get to that midseason form, and it doesn't feel any different than if I played last year or not."

While not playing last season, Duffy considered many of the mental aspects of hitting, which brought him to the reality he'd had times where he had been "chasing hits," rather than slowing the game down and having an approach.

"I just try to keep it as simple as possible," Duffy said. "I think if you can do that mentally, the results will take care of themselves."

Injury updates
• Right-hander Chris Archer (left abdominal strain) threw from 120 feet on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. He is expected to throw a bullpen session on Friday.

• Second baseman Daniel Robertson (left hamstring strain) worked out at Tropicana Field on Wednesday after playing second in a rehab game for Class A Advanced Charlotte on Tuesday night, going 1-for-2 with a single and a hit by pitch. He is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Friday.

• Third baseman Christian Arroyo (left oblique strain) worked out at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, completing range-of-motion and core-stabilization exercises.

Draft update
According to Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline, the Rays' only unsigned pick from the first 10 rounds of the Draft is first-rounder Shane McClanahan. The pick value at No. 31 is $2,224,400.

Tampa Bay can pay McClanahan $2,400,100 without exceeding its pool and up to $3,020,880 without exceeding by more than 5 percent (and losing a future first-round pick).

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Duffy

Eovaldi hurt by 4 homers as Rays fall to Astros

MLB.com @wwchastain

HOUSTON -- If you have to give up a home run now and then, the idea is to do so with nobody on base. Solo homers don't do as much damage as three-run jacks. However, homers without men on base can add up to deliver a knockout punch, which the Astros' four solos shots accomplished Wednesday night in the Rays' 5-1 loss at Minute Maid Park.

Tampa Bay completed its seven-game road trip to New York and Houston with a 2-5 mark against the Yankees and Astros, two of baseball's best teams. The Rays head back to St. Petersburg with a 34-40 record. After an off-day on Thursday, they will begin a three-game weekend series against the Yankees at Tropicana Field.

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HOUSTON -- If you have to give up a home run now and then, the idea is to do so with nobody on base. Solo homers don't do as much damage as three-run jacks. However, homers without men on base can add up to deliver a knockout punch, which the Astros' four solos shots accomplished Wednesday night in the Rays' 5-1 loss at Minute Maid Park.

Tampa Bay completed its seven-game road trip to New York and Houston with a 2-5 mark against the Yankees and Astros, two of baseball's best teams. The Rays head back to St. Petersburg with a 34-40 record. After an off-day on Thursday, they will begin a three-game weekend series against the Yankees at Tropicana Field.

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"We have New York, Washington and Houston [coming to Tropicana Field], so it's going to continue to stay tough," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We knew, we circled this spot on the calendar coming out of Spring Training. And it was going to be challenging, and it's lived up to that. But hopefully, being on the road, we'll learn something, we'll take it back home and find a way to flip flop that record a little bit."

Video: TB@HOU: Adames starts the 4-6-3 DP in the 3rd

Nathan Eovaldi made his fifth start of the season for the Rays, and entering the sixth, the only run against the right-hander had come via Jose Altuve's solo home run in the fourth. That would change.

George Springer opened the sixth with his 15th home run of the season. Alex Bregman followed with his 11th. Then, with a sellout crowd of 43,409 chanting "M-V-P! M-V-P!" Altuve connected for his second home run of the game and seventh of the season to give the Astros a 4-1 lead.

"It definitely happened quick," Eovaldi said. "I think, after the Springer home run, I was a little more frustrated with my pitch location, where it was and how I got there. I think I had him 0-2, then he worked the count 2-2, then I missed with that fastball down and in when I was trying to go up and in. I just have to do a better job of executing my pitches in those situations."

It was the sixth time in franchise history that the Astros hit back-to-back-to-back homers, but they had not done so since May 2, 2008, against the Brewers.

Video: TB@HOU: Springer, Bregman, Altuve rip 3 straight HRs

"I don't think [Eovaldi] lost any effectiveness," Cash said. "I think it's the typical third-time-through-the-order effect that is so obvious throughout the game right now. And they're really good."

Rays third baseman Joey Wendle noted that losing doesn't feel any better if they lose to a winning team.

"We go out with the expectation of winning every game," Wendle said. "And this trip, we weren't able to get that done."

Video: TB@HOU: Smith races home on throwing error in the 4th

Tampa Bay's only run was unearned, coming in the fourth following Mallex Smith's one-out single against Charlie Morton. Smith was running with the pitch when Carlos Gomez grounded to third. Smith rounded second and took off for third, forcing a hurried throw across the diamond from first baseman Yuli Gurriel. The throw went wild, and Smith scored to put the Rays up, 1-0.

SOUND SMART
Jake Bauers doubled and drew two walks. His 11 walks are the second most recorded by a Rays player within his first 14 Major League games, behind Akinori Iwamura (12 in 2007).

Video: TB@HOU: Cash talks Eovaldi's start in loss to Astros

HE SAID IT
"We're not good enough. ... Good teams find ways to win games. And we didn't find a way to win two of those games." -- Cash, on how the Rays measured up against the Astros, who won their 50th game

UP NEXT
After an off-day Thursday, Ryne Stanek will head to the mound Friday to make his seventh career start as the Rays host the Yankees in a 7:10 p.m. ET contest at Tropicana Field. In his last start Monday against the Astros, Stanek retired all five batters he faced on 11 pitches. He hasn't allowed a run in eight appearances since the beginning of June. The Rays are opening a nine-game homestand.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Nathan Eovaldi

Sanchez hits grand slam for Charlotte

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Thursday.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Thursday.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

Making his sixth start for Class A Advanced Lynchburg, Eli Morgan turned in the best outing of his young career.

Morgan, the Indians' No. 28 prospect, did not allow a hit over six dominant innings, issuing one walk and matching his career high with nine strikeouts as he and a trio of Hillcats relievers combined to fire a one-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory against Myrtle Beach. He threw a season-high 91 pitches in the outing, 59 for strikes.

After retiring the first eight batters of the game, Morgan issued a two-out walk in the third inning that ended his bid at perfection. It was the only blemish on his performance, as the 22-year-old righty proceeded to set down the final 10 batters en route to facing one over the minimum.

Morgan has proved to be one of the biggest 2017 Draft steals in his first full season. The eighth-round selection out of Gonzaga has pitched to a 2.62 ERA with a 0.79 WHIP and 40-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 1/3 innings (six starts) with Lynchburg after a dominant start to his season at Class A Lake County, where he logged a 1.83 ERA with 56 strikeouts and eight walks in 44 1/3 innings.

Overall, Morgan owns a 2.17 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 14 starts this season across the two levels. He's held opposing hitters to a paltry .186 average in that span while compiling 96 strikeouts and 14 walks in 78 2/3 innings.

Right-handed reliever James Karinchak (No. 22) locked down his seventh save of the season to seal the Hillcats' combined one-hitter. Another steal from the 2017 Draft, when he was a ninth-round pick out of Bryant University, Karinchak has dominated to the tune of a 0.68 ERA with a .180 opponents' average and 47 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings (20 appearances) this season between Lake County and Lynchburg.

Offensively, Mitch Longo (No. 27) provided all the run support the Lynchburg hurlers would need when he led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run. The 23-year-old outfielder finished the game 1-for-2, also reaching base via a walk and a hit-by-pitch. He's hitting .289/.340/.417 with four home runs in 60 games this season -- matching the exact total he produced over 60 contests between Lake County and Lynchburg in 2017.

The rest of the best performances from top prospects Thursday

No. 6 overall prospect Nick Senzel (Reds' No. 1) hit a solo homer and later added a two-run shot to account for all of Triple-A Louisville's offense in a 13-3 loss against Durham. The multihomer performance, the third of Senzel's career, gives him six homers on the season and also pushed his hitting streak to 11 games, during which he's raised his average from .256 to .310 while recording nine multihit efforts.

Senzel's second homer

• No. 10 overall prospect Kyle Tucker (Astros' No. 1) is halfway to his second straight 20-homer, 20-stolen base season after recording his 10th home run and 12th stolen base in a 3-for-5 game for Triple-A Fresno. He's hitting .306 for the season, thanks largely to a 10-game hitting streak during which he owns a .449 average (22-for-44) with three homers, 10 RBIs and 11 runs scored.

• No. 13 overall prospect Royce Lewis (Twins' No. 1) hit a three-run homer in the third inning that proved the difference in Class A Cedar Rapids' 5-4 win over Wisconsin. He finished 2-for-4 at the plate in what was his fourth straight multihit game for the Kernels. The 19-year-old shortstop has been remarkable in his first full season, hitting .305/.347/.469 with 23 extra-base hits (7 HR), 40 RBIs and 16 steals in 56 games.

Lewis goes yard

• No. 27 overall prospect Kyle Wright (Braves' No. 3) struck out eight batters over seven innings, matching his career-best marks in both categories, as Double-A Mississippi downed Jacksonville, 11-2. He allowed two runs (one earned) on seven hits, throwing 67 of his 97 pitches for strikes, and did not issue a walk for the first time in 15 starts this season. It was the best home start of 2018 for the 22-year-old righty, who sports a 1.91 ERA (42 1/3 IP) on the road compared to a 6.82 ERA (34 1/3 IP) in Mississippi. Alex Jackson (No. 14) paced the M-Braves offensively by going 4-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI.

• No. 37 overall prospect Jesus Sanchez (Rays' No. 4) blasted a grand slam and went 3-for-4 to help power Class A Advanced Charlotte past Palm Beach, 10-1. The 20-year-old outfielder has homered nine times in 59 games and ranks among the Florida State League leaders with a .328 average (third), 124 total bases (first) and 45 RBIs (tied, first).

• No. 54 overall prospect Yordan Alvarez (Astros' No. 3) stayed red hot with a 3-for-4 performance that included a two-run homer in Double-A Corpus Christi's 4-2 win over Frisco. In five games since coming off the disabled list, the 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .478 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and four multihit performances. For the season, Alvarez owns a .331/.390/.608 batting line with nine homers and 36 RBIs in 32 games.

• Making his Triple-A debut, No. 96 overall prospect Griffin Canning (Angels' No. 5) posted zeros for the ninth time in 13 starts this season, tossing four scoreless frames in Salt Lake's win over Tacoma. He mixed two hits with three walks and six strikeouts while throwing 51 of his 87 pitches for strikes over four innings. Canning, a 2017 second-rounder, has been sensational in his first full season, pitching to a 1.54 ERA with 67 strikeouts and 33 hits allowed in 58 1/3 innings across three levels.

Blue Jays No. 12 prospect Miguel Hiraldo recorded his third four-hit performance in 16 games for Toronto's Dominican Summer League affiliate. He reached base in all five plate appearances, going 4-for-4 with a walk, two RBIs and a stolen base. The 17-year-old shortstop, signed for $750,000 a little more than a year ago, is slashing .429/.493/.667 with 10 extra-base hits and eight multihit efforts in 16 games to begin his career.

Royals No. 3 prospect Seuly Matias connected on his Minor League-leading 23rd home run, a two-run shot, in the sixth inning of Class A Lexington's 9-8 loss against Charleston. He reached base three times in the contest, finishing 1-for-2 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. The 19-year-old slugger has gone deep nine times in 20 games this month after homering seven times in each of the season's first two months.

Royals No. 6 prospect Nicky Lopez hit for the cycle in order, tallying a single, double, triple and home run in the first six innings of Double-A Northwest Arkansas' 17-3 rout of Tulsa. He finished 5-for-6 with two RBIs and four runs scored out of the leadoff spot. The 23-year-old middle infielder is raking in the Texas League, as Thursday's performance gives him a .332/.398/.420 batting line and 91 hits through 71 games.

Lopez hits for the cycle

Tigers No. 11 prospect Mike Gerber went 2-for-5 with a pair of two-run homers as Triple-A Toledo fell to Gwinnett, 7-6. It was the 25-year-old outfielder's first multi-homer performance this season and fifth of his career. He owns a .220 average with seven homers in 37 games this season.

Twins No. 11 prospect Lewis Thorpe racked up a career-high 12 strikeouts and carried a no-hit bid into the fifth inning before completing seven scoreless innings of one-hit, one-walk ball in Double-A Chattanooga's 12-2 win over Biloxi. The 22-year-old left-hander faced two over the minimum in the outing, permitting a two-out single in the fifth and a one-out walk in the following frame. He recorded at least two strikeouts in each of the first five innings and ultimately threw 60 of his 84 pitches for strikes in the season-long outing. Thorpe has 86 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings on the year to go along with a 4.26 ERA.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Snell outduels Verlander, ends Astros' streak

MLB.com @wwchastain

HOUSTON -- Tampa Bay outlasted Justin Verlander, and Blake Snell came through on the mound as the Rays ended the Astros' 12-game winning streak with a 2-1 win on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

The score stood tied at 1 when Matt Duffy doubled down the right-field line off Hector Rondon to open the eighth. Duffy moved to third on Jake Bauers' groundout to the right side, then scored what turned out to be the winning run when Wilson Ramos singled to left on a high-chopper that leaping Astros third baseman Yuli Gurriel tipped with his glove.

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HOUSTON -- Tampa Bay outlasted Justin Verlander, and Blake Snell came through on the mound as the Rays ended the Astros' 12-game winning streak with a 2-1 win on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

The score stood tied at 1 when Matt Duffy doubled down the right-field line off Hector Rondon to open the eighth. Duffy moved to third on Jake Bauers' groundout to the right side, then scored what turned out to be the winning run when Wilson Ramos singled to left on a high-chopper that leaping Astros third baseman Yuli Gurriel tipped with his glove.

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Video: TB@HOU: Ramos hits go-ahead RBI single in the 8th

Bauers' at-bat "was the biggest at-bat of the night," Duffy said. "I mean, let him swing the bat there against a tough pitcher who has got a lot of velo behind him. It's not easy to get around that ball ... just a professional at-bat."

The Rays used seven relievers in Monday night's loss to the Astros, so they needed Snell to pitch deep into the game, and he did just that, limiting the Astros to one run on three hits and seven walks in seven innings to pick up his ninth win.

"To go seven against this lineup is good," Snell said. "But I have to build off it, get more consistent. But very excited about this win. It was a team effort, and I couldn't be more excited about that."

Astros manager AJ Hinch sounded more impressed with Snell's performance than Snell.

"Snell's nasty," Hinch said. "Look at the league and look at the numbers, the entire league is having a hard time hitting him when he's in the strike zone. He can be erratic, but he's got some of the most premier left-handed stuff in the league that we've seen. He's right up there with [James] Paxton and guys with power, power stuff that's tough to hit."

A quality win for the Rays, but it didn't come without some last-minute drama.

Evan Gattis singled off Jose Alvarado to start the Astros' ninth. One out later, Rays manager Kevin Cash called on Sergio Romo, who took the loss on Monday night.

Romo fell behind 2-1 to Max Stassi, but recovered to strike him out looking for the second out. Tyler White followed with an infield single, but Romo retired Jake Marisnick on a popout to second to end the game.

Video: TB@HOU: Romo induces pop out, notches the save

Verlander came away with a no-decision despite allowing just one run on six hits while striking out 10 in 6 2/3 innings.

"Just an outstanding pitching performance on both sides," Cash said. "And Blake got there a little differently than being super efficient with the walks. But he made some pitches when he had to."

Video: TB@HOU: Verlander K's 10, allows 1 run over 6 2/3

SOUND SMART
C.J. Cron's home run off Verlander in the second moved him to 16, matching his career high. The Rays slugger hit 16 home runs for the Angels in each of his previous three seasons. The long ball snapped the longest hitless streak of his career (23 at-bats).

Video: TB@HOU: Cron opens the scoring with a solo homer

GOMEZ AIRS IT OUT
Twice the Astros tried to run on Carlos Gomez, and twice the Rays' right fielder threw out runners -- one at second base and one at the plate. It was the second time in his career that he recorded multiple outfield assists in a single game. He also did it on Sept. 24, 2013, at Atlanta.

Video: TB@HOU: Gomez throws out Springer at home for DP

HE SAID IT
"Felt great to be back out there with the guys. For the third consecutive year, it's my second Opening Day of the season. Not how you draw it up. But at the same time, I'm just happy to be back out there again." -- Kevin Kiermaier, on his return from the disabled list

Video: TB@HOU: Kiermaier makes a leaping grab at the wall

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Alex Bregman plunged a deep liner in the third inning off the wall in right-center field and drove in George Springer from second base. Attempting to take second on Gomez while Springer charged home, Bregman overshot the bag on his slide and was tagged out by Adeiny Hechavarria on a close play as he lunged back. The Astros challenged the call, but it would stand.

Video: TB@HOU: Gomez throws out Bregman at second base

UP NEXT
Nathan Eovaldi will start for the Rays when they wrap up their three-game series against the Astros at 8:10 ET on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Eovaldi, who has a 6.75 ERA in the second inning this season, will try to get dialed in opposite Houston right-hander Charlie Morton.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Blake Snell

Ramos leads AL catchers in All-Star balloting

Rays backstop pulls ahead of Yanks' Sanchez in latest update
MLB.com @wwchastain

HOUSTON -- "The Buffalo" has roamed to the front of the line, as Rays catcher Wilson Ramos has moved ahead of the Yankees' Gary Sanchez in the latest American League All-Star voting update, which was revealed Tuesday.

VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

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HOUSTON -- "The Buffalo" has roamed to the front of the line, as Rays catcher Wilson Ramos has moved ahead of the Yankees' Gary Sanchez in the latest American League All-Star voting update, which was revealed Tuesday.

VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

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"Pretty cool," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I saw that earlier on MLB Network. Good for him. I think he deserves to be up on that list. I hope our fans continue to support him. He's done some special things for us, and I think at this point he's very deserving of where he's at."

Ramos leads with 678,159 votes, while Sanchez slid to second with 618,899 votes. Last week, Sanchez led Ramos by 15,311 votes. Rays fans need to continue voting if they want to see Ramos earn the starting spot.

Ramos is in his second season with Tampa Bay and has performed well. In addition to handling his catching duties on a staff featuring so many relievers, he has been a big contributor on offense. Ramos is hitting .286 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs.

"I'm very excited," Ramos said. "I saw the result today, made me feel excited. Just thinking about the fans voting for me, it feels good. ... It's all good."

Fans may cast votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- on computers, tablets and smartphones -- exclusively online using the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot until Thursday, July 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET. On smartphones and tablets, fans can also access the ballot via the MLB At Bat and MLB Ballpark mobile apps. Each fan can vote up to five times in any 24-hour period, for a maximum of 35 ballots cast.

Following the announcement of this year's All-Star starters, reserves and pitchers, fans should return to MLB.com and cast their 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote for the final player on each league's roster. Then on Tuesday, July 17, while watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, fans may visit MLB.com to submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.

The 89th Midsummer Classic, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, please visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Wilson Ramos

Orbit sad he couldn't continue pranking Archer

Astros mascot Orbit and Rays pitcher Chris Archer have long been engaged in a prank war. It's baseball's version of Ali-Frazier except with inflatable mascots and fart signs instead of fists. However, as any prank perpetrator knows, the jokes come from a place of love and friendship. 

So, with Chris Archer currently on the DL and unable to continue his war with Orbit during this week's Rays-Astros series, the green and fuzzy alien was understandably distraught. 

Kiermaier returns to Rays' lineup

Injury updates on Archer, Robertson; Cash speaks with Hechavarria about backup role
MLB.com @wwchastain

HOUSTON -- Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is back with the Rays. The two-time Gold Glover, who had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on April 20, came off the disabled list and started in the leadoff spot for the club's Tuesday night matchup with the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

To make room on the roster for Kiermaier, outfielder Rob Refsnyder was designated for assignment .

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HOUSTON -- Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is back with the Rays. The two-time Gold Glover, who had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on April 20, came off the disabled list and started in the leadoff spot for the club's Tuesday night matchup with the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

To make room on the roster for Kiermaier, outfielder Rob Refsnyder was designated for assignment .

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"I feel really good," Kiermaier said on Monday when he rejoined the club from his rehab assignment. "I did everything I needed to do down there. I hit, I ran the bases well. I made a diving catch last week in the outfield in Dunedin. Made a couple of throws. Everything that was asked of me.

"It got to the point, where I'm like, 'I'm ready to be back.' My timing feels good up at the plate. I faced guys throwing 98, sidearmers, lefties, everything. So I'm very happy with how it went down there. I'm very excited, I'm ready."

Kiermaier underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb in April. He sustained the injury when his hand got caught on the ground as he slid headfirst into second base on April 15 against the Phillies, and he has been on the disabled list since April 16.

The two-time Gold Glover made five Minor League rehab appearances with Class A Advanced Port Charlotte and Triple-A Durham, going 7-for-17 with a double, a triple, an RBI, two walks and a stolen base.

"I squared up a lot of balls, had great at-bats," Kiermaier said. "So I texted [Rays manager Kevin] Cash, I texted [hitting coach Chad Mottola] quite a few times. And I said, 'How many more line drives is it going to take for me to get a call to Houston?' I guess I convinced them enough. ... I'm where I need to be right now, and I'm excited to take the field tomorrow with these guys."

Video: TB@CWS: Kiermaier runs down ball, jumps for the catch

Kiermaier was asked about returning just in time to face Houston's Justin Verlander, one of baseball's best, on Tuesday.

"Hey, you face the best, and he's having a great year," Kiermaier said. "I knew what I was getting myself into, and I didn't want to wait until Friday, to be honest. I feel like I'm fully capable right now. So I'm glad they flew me to Houston."

Cash is happy to have Kiermaier back patrolling center field.

"We thought, talking to K.K. and talking to the training staff and then obviously the Durham staff, that he was in a good spot physically and mentally," Cash said. "We're a better team when K.K. is on the field."

This marks the third straight year in which Kiermaier has logged considerable time on the disabled list. Last season, he missed 61 games with a right hip fracture and sat out 48 games in 2016 with a fractured left hand.

Refsnyder posted a .167/.314/.274 line in 40 games for the Rays.

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

Injury updates

Chris Archer (left abdominal strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday. Cash said the right-hander will have to make some rehab starts before returning to the team.

Daniel Robertson (left hamstring strain) will play second base in the first game of a doubleheader for Port Charlotte on Tuesday and is expected to return to the team by Friday.

Cash talks to Hechavarria

The Rays have told Adeiny Hechavarria that Willy Adames will be the team's starting shortstop. Cash explained the Rays' plan to Hechavarria.

Video: TB@NYY: Hechavarria makes a diving play to rob Torres

"[Hechavarria was] very understanding of the situation," Cash said. "I was extremely appreciative of how he handled it. Now it's my job to make sure he's getting in there, getting some reps.

"We saw that [Sunday], he comes off the DL, gets three hits, makes maybe the best play of the game. He's going to play. It just might not be the amount he was playing before the injury."

Cash told reporters that Hechavarria won't be moved around the infield. When he plays, he'll play shortstop.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Kevin Kiermaier

Rays strike early, but can't hold off Astros

Ramos' first-inning homer helps Tampa Bay jump out to 4-run lead
MLB.com @wwchastain

HOUSTON -- For eight innings Monday, the Rays were better than the world champion Astros. Alas, Major League games are nine innings, and the Astros finished a come-from-behind 5-4 win in walk-off fashion to extend their winning streak to 12 games.

Sergio Romo started the ninth for the Rays and promptly walked Marwin Gonzalez on four pitches. Max Stassi followed with a single to left. Tony Kemp sacrificed the runners into scoring position, then George Springer reached on catcher's interference against the Rays' Wilson Ramos to load the bases. Alex Bregman followed with the game-winning hit, a double to the gap in left-center field that scored Gonzalez and Stassi.

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HOUSTON -- For eight innings Monday, the Rays were better than the world champion Astros. Alas, Major League games are nine innings, and the Astros finished a come-from-behind 5-4 win in walk-off fashion to extend their winning streak to 12 games.

Sergio Romo started the ninth for the Rays and promptly walked Marwin Gonzalez on four pitches. Max Stassi followed with a single to left. Tony Kemp sacrificed the runners into scoring position, then George Springer reached on catcher's interference against the Rays' Wilson Ramos to load the bases. Alex Bregman followed with the game-winning hit, a double to the gap in left-center field that scored Gonzalez and Stassi.

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"It's a tough one, no doubt," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Leadoff walk, a couple of tough pitches, a couple of odd things take place, then Bregman comes up and gets a big hit."

The Rays got off to a fast start against Gerrit Cole, one of the top pitchers in the American League. Ramos homered in the first with a man aboard on the first pitch he saw from Cole, and Joey Wendle added a two-run single in the third to give the Rays a 4-0 lead against the tough right-hander.

Video: TB@HOU: Wendle drives in Duffy, Bauers with a single

"I like the fact we came out and scored some runs against arguably the best pitcher in the AL," Cash said. "You can see how talented he is, we got four runs against him, then he kind of dialed it in and got deep in the ballgame even though his pitch count got up there."

Unfortunately for the Rays, four runs would be the sum of their offense Monday night.

"We didn't score any there in the late innings," Wendle said. "So yeah, it's a tough one. Especially when we take an early lead like that. But we have to play a full nine."

Rays first baseman Jake Bauers gave credit to the bullpen for their performance on a "bullpen night" that saw the Rays use seven pitchers, adding that he felt the offense needed to do more.

"I think offensively we probably could have done a better job of stepping on their throats a little bit," Bauers said. "You jump out to a 4-0 lead after three. ... Teams like that that win World Series and go deep in playoffs are teams that don't stop at four [runs]. They put up eight."

In the fourth, Yuli Gurriel had an RBI single and Josh Reddick a sacrifice fly to cut the Rays' lead in half. Gurriel added an RBI single in the sixth to make it a one-run game, setting the stage for Bregman's heroics.

The Astros displayed relentlessness in trying to find a way to take the lead. Bauers was asked about that never-say-die attitude.

"I think the fact that we held the lead that long and hung with them that long shows more about us than it does them," Bauers said. "I think it shows you how close we are to being a really good team."

Video: TB@HOU: Cash on the walk-off loss against Astros

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Carlos Correa struck out as Jose Altuve stole second base in the eighth inning, then took third on Ramos' throwing error. But Rays reliever Chaz Roe retired Gurriel on a popout to shortstop for the second out, then Tyler White grounded out to end the threat, leaving the Astros a run shy.

Video: TB@HOU: Roe retires White to keep the Rays ahead

SOUND SMART
Ryne Stanek retired all five batters he faced in his start Monday night, marking the seventh hitless outing by a Rays starting pitcher this season, extending their Major League record for hitless starts in a single season. The previous high was five.

HE SAID IT
"I mean, obviously we took a loss. But it was a fun game. It's a fun game any time you jump out to a lead. We're fighting back, and we're holding them off." -- Bauers

UP NEXT
Blake Snell will make his 16th start of the season Tuesday in Houston after allowing four runs -- his most since May 13 -- in his last start against the Yankees. He has yielded two runs or fewer in 12 starts this season. Steady veteran righty Justin Verlander will start for the Astros. Game time is 8:10 p.m. ET.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Wilson Ramos

Bauers teased by Gordon before 1st MLB hit

Some players are fortunate enough to record their first Major League hit in their MLB debut. For Rays rookie first baseman Jake Bauers, it took a little longer than that -- and it felt like an eternity.

Bauers went hitless in his first two career games after being called up by the Rays on June 7. Two games may not sound like a lot, but for a player who has been dreaming his whole life of reaching the big leagues, each at-bat that fails to yield the milestone hit can feel exponentially more frustrating. Bauers did eventually record a hit in his third game off Felix Hernandez -- but not before some friendly taunting from Dee Gordon.

Ballpark plan for Rays? Sternberg talks timeline

MLB.com @wwchastain

Rays owner Stu Sternberg believes the team should "have a good sense of where things are headed by year's end" regarding the pursuit of a new ballpark, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.

Thus, according to Sternberg, the team won't likely have to ask for an extension on the deadline to let St. Petersburg know if the Rays will be leaving Tropicana Field before the end of the 2027 term.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg believes the team should "have a good sense of where things are headed by year's end" regarding the pursuit of a new ballpark, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.

Thus, according to Sternberg, the team won't likely have to ask for an extension on the deadline to let St. Petersburg know if the Rays will be leaving Tropicana Field before the end of the 2027 term.

Of concern to many in the St. Petersburg area has been how a new ballpark would be financed, and how much the Rays planned to contribute for a project that has been estimated at $800 million. Sternberg, who originally suggested the Rays' contribution to be approximately $150 million, allowed that the number is still fluid, contingent on factors such as naming rights and sponsorships.

"The more we can sell, the more we can contribute," Sternberg told the Times, noting that it's a matter of "all the pieces coming together" and that there has been a lot of excitement in the area for the project.

"There are all these things," Sternberg said. "There is money out there, there are sponsorships out there, there are fans out there ... and it's got to coalesce."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays

Bullpen of the Week: Rays

Relievers combine for 1.48 ERA over 30 1/3 innings to earn honor
MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

As the Rays continue to employ an unorthodox bullpen strategy by utilizing relievers as starters in many games, Tampa Bay's relief corps posted a 1.48 ERA over 30 1/3 innings last week to earn MLB Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford honors for the period of June 11-17.

As part of The Hartford Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2018 season, MLB.com is honoring baseball's best bullpen from the previous week. An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.

As the Rays continue to employ an unorthodox bullpen strategy by utilizing relievers as starters in many games, Tampa Bay's relief corps posted a 1.48 ERA over 30 1/3 innings last week to earn MLB Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford honors for the period of June 11-17.

As part of The Hartford Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2018 season, MLB.com is honoring baseball's best bullpen from the previous week. An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.

Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:

• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save

Tampa Bay's bullpen finished the week with a score of 118. The Astros' relief corps finished second, with a score of 105, and the Dodgers finished at 103.5.

Veteran right-hander Sergio Romo, who has started five games this season, led the way with three scoreless relief appearances during the week, giving up one hit while walking one and striking out four over three innings. Romo picked up two saves in the process.

Meanwhile, right-hander Chaz Roe added 3 1/3 scoreless frames, including two in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Yankees in New York. Over that span, Roe surrendered just one hit, while walking one and fanning three. Rookie right-hander Diego Castillo also was stellar during the week, appearing in four games and tossing four scoreless innings. He gave up three hits and struck out six.

The unexpected: In Sunday's victory over the Yankees, Wilmer Font started and escaped early trouble in the first inning. He proceeded to retire 10 of the next 12 batters he faced before Aaron Hicks got New York on the board with a solo homer with two outs in the fifth. Jose Alvarado came on in relief and walked both Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius to put the tying run at first base.

How they prevailed: Alvarado faced slugger Giancarlo Stanton and struck him out to end the threat. In the bottom of the sixth, Greg Bird opened with a single, prompting Rays manager Kevin Cash to again turn to the bullpen. Roe came on and got Gary Sanchez to fly out, then followed that by getting Miguel Andujar to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

Roe pitched a scoreless seventh, and Castillo came in to pitch a scoreless eighth, working around a leadoff infield single by Gregorius. Romo took the ball in the ninth, and after striking out Andujar, issued a walk to Neil Walker. Gleyber Torres, who entered the contest with 13 homers since May 4, came to the plate as the tying run. Romo struck him out swinging, then got Hicks to pop out to end the game.

Video: TB@NYY: Romo retires Hicks and records the save

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Tampa Bay Rays