The Rays announced Thursday that right-hander John Curtiss will start Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros at Petco Park in San Diego. Curtiss, who made three starts during the regular season, will serve as the team’s opener for the first time this postseason.
Curtiss allowed one run over 3 1/3 innings in his three regular-season starts. The right-hander has made two appearances in the ALCS, tossing two scoreless innings. On Thursday, the Rays will likely ask Curtiss to give them two or three innings, before they turn it over to the rest of the bullpen. Curtiss pitched two or more innings five times in the regular season.
“He’s done it before and we’re going to try to mix and match throughout the game, but hopefully he can get us some early outs,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “[Hopefully] he gets his fastball command the way he wants and features a slider off of it and can get a couple innings worth of work.”
The rest of the Rays’ pitching decisions will depend on how the game plays out, but Tampa Bay has left-hander Josh Fleming available to be the team’s bulk guy. Fleming went 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in seven appearances (five starts) this season.
Besides Fleming, the Rays have rookie Shane McClanahan available to provide multiple innings, if needed. Tampa Bay is hoping to take a lead into the later innings before handing it off to The Stable, led by Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and Nick Anderson, who are all available as the Rays look to win the AL pennant on Thursday.
By starting Curtiss and leaning on the bullpen, the Rays will likely go with Blake Snell in Game 6 on Friday, if the Astros are able to extend the series. Charlie Morton could also be an option in Game 6, but the right-hander would likely be in line to start Game 7 on Saturday, though Tampa Bay is hoping it doesn’t get to that point.
Brandon Lowe is hitting leadoff for the Rays on Thursday, which is a surprise given the struggles the All-Star has had in the postseason. With a ninth-inning strikeout on Wednesday, Lowe is now 3-for-40.
Cash hopes putting Lowe at the top of the order helps him get his mind off the recent struggles.
“Look, he’s going to come up big for us,” Cash said. “We have a lot of confidence in Brandon Lowe. He’s going to come up today with some opportunities to do some damage, find a hole, find some grass out there or maybe find something over the wall.”
The other noticeable part of the Rays’ lineup is that Kevin Kiermaier isn’t starting for the second consecutive game. Kiermaier exited Game 3 on Tuesday after being hit by an Enoli Paredes 99 mph fastball on the left hand. Cash mentioned that Kiermaier’s hand is still sore, but that the outfielder is available off the bench, if needed.