Rays unable to carry over road success to Trop

Morton dazzles again, but Tampa Bay falls to 31-29 at home

August 17th, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Maybe the Rays should start pretending that they’re wearing their road gray uniforms during their remaining home games.

During a 5-1 West Coast road trip to Seattle and San Diego, Tampa Bay improved to a Majors-best 40-23 on the road this season. Unfortunately for the Rays, they haven’t been able to translate that success to Tropicana Field after winning 50 games at home last season.

Those struggles continued on Friday. The Rays were unable to take advantage of another gem from and dropped the series opener to the Tigers, 2-0, to fall to 31-29 at home.

“I know we’re going to talk about [the home struggles] until we get on a run here,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t have a good answer for you. For any of it, really. … I do know we have to play better at home.”

Morton certainly did his part, adding another quality start to his American League Cy Young Award candidacy. The right-hander allowed one unearned run and struck out 10 over seven innings. Over his past three outings, Morton has struck out 29 without allowing a walk. Three starts without a walk is a career-best streak for the 35-year-old. 

In Morton's five losses this season, the Rays have scored a combined eight runs. 

“We feel really good every fifth day when he gets on the mound, and huge credit to him for what he’s done,” Cash said. “He was super efficient and attacked the strike zone.”

The key inning was the fourth, when Matt Duffy couldn’t handle a routine grounder at third that started the inning. Duffy has been a pleasant addition to the lineup since his return from hamstring issues, but the third baseman said he needs to be better in the field.

“It’s frustrating,” Duffy said. “As an infielder, making your pitchers throw extra pitches is tough. Especially when it turns out to be the winning run; that part is pretty gut-wrenching. Just have to get better -- it is what it is, and keep working. Pretty simple.”

Duffy's error opened the door for the Tigers, but it was a cross-up between Morton and catcher Travis d’Arnaud that helped Dawel Lugo score what ended up being the game-winning run. Morton threw a fastball, but d’Arnaud was expecting a breaking ball, which resulted in a passed ball.

“That can’t happen,” Morton said. “I threw him a pitch that he didn’t call for. That not only cost us a run, but it puts him at risk health-wise.”

As good as Morton was, the Rays’ offense couldn’t get anything going against Daniel Norris, Drew VerHagen and a Tigers staff that came into the game 28th in the Majors with a 5.22 ERA.

Tampa Bay’s offense has struggled at home, entering the game with a .745 OPS at Tropicana Field and .775 on the road. The Rays have hit just 70 home runs at home and 94 away from The Trop.

“It’s kind of just one of those things, among many other things, that are really hard to explain in this game,” Duffy said. “It’s reality that we haven’t played well at home this year after being exceptional last year to where it got to the point that if another team was coming in, it was three wins for us. Ideally, we get back to that, but in the meantime, we just have to worry about winning one game.”

The Rays recorded just five hits on Friday, with Duffy connecting on three. Eric Sogard, who recorded the only extra-base hit, struck out looking on a pitch that appeared to be out of the zone with runners at the corners to end the game.

“We just didn’t hit,” Cash said. “You’re not going to win if you don’t score, and we didn’t score.”