'It's tough right now': Rays can't capitalize

April 15th, 2021

After going down swinging on a low sinker from Rangers reliever John King to end the sixth inning, slammed his bat into the dirt around home plate and flipped his batting helmet into the turf near the home dugout at Tropicana Field. It was that kind of night again for the Rays’ lineup.

Unable to get anything going against starter Kohei Arihara or the Texas bullpen, Tampa Bay couldn’t capitalize on a strong start from freshly promoted left-hander and lost, 5-1, on Wednesday night. It was the Rays’ seventh loss in the last 10 games since they started the season with consecutive wins in Miami.

“It’s tough right now. It's tough,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We've got too many guys that are just not feeling like themselves in the batter's box, and I think that's showing more than anything right now.”

The Rays’ only run came in the ninth, when Lowe homered off reliever Kyle Cody to avoid their first shutout since Aug. 5, 2020. They finished the night hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position, including three in a row with runners on second and third in the second inning, offering no run support to Fleming and no margin for error to their bullpen.

The Rays have been held to five runs through three games in this series and only 13 runs over their last five games. Twelve games is hardly a representative sample size in a 162-game season, but to this point, they’re hitting just .223/.300/.373 as a team.

“We've got to get through this together. We'd like to see a lot of them hit their way out of it right now,” Cash said. “It's not as easy as pushing a button, that's for sure. They're working. We're just coming up short, and we don't have much to show for it.”

Fleming did his part in his first start since being called up from the club’s alternate training site. The rookie lefty worked quickly, threw strikes and forced the Rangers to put the ball on the ground -- everything he’s known for -- and really only made one mistake to a familiar face during his five innings on the mound. In the second inning, Fleming left a curveball over the plate to former teammate Nate Lowe, who hit the ball out to left-center field for his fourth home run of the season.

“I think it was safe to say he kind of knew kind of what I had coming to him,” Fleming said after the game. “That's just a perk for him facing me at the alt site all last year.”

But Fleming was otherwise solid for 84 pitches, giving up only four hits and two walks while striking out two. Had the Rays capitalized on a scoring opportunity immediately after Lowe’s homer, Fleming’s solid season debut might have been the story of the night.

led off the second with an infield single, then continued his hot start with a double to right field. While third-base coach Rodney Linares waved Díaz home when Joey Gallo misplayed Wendle’s hit in right field, Díaz stopped at third to leave Tampa Bay with runners on second and third with nobody out.

What seemed like an ideal opportunity to get to Arihara instead produced nothing. Manuel Margot flied out on the second pitch he saw, then and went down swinging against Arihara.

“You push one across there, you push two across, it's a different boat. But we've just got to continue to put together good at-bats, you know, those hits will fall,” Zunino said. “We'll continue to get some traffic on there. But we've got to just continue to have good at-bats, team at-bats, and let those build up and build some momentum that way.”

It seemed like the Rays might have regained some momentum in the sixth after getting out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam. Right-hander got Nate Lowe to hit a grounder down the line to Díaz, who stepped on first base and then fired a throw home to Zunino. A replay review correctly determined that Zunino tagged out David Dahl, who never touched home plate, and the Rays turned the double play. Nick Solak then hit a chopper, which Wendle scooped up before a quick throw to first base for the final out of the inning.

But Tampa Bay didn’t keep it a one-run game for long. Dahl doubled in two runs in the seventh off Mazza, who threw only two first-pitch strikes to the six hitters he faced that inning, then Adolis Garcia plated two more runs on a bizarre play that looked like a home run twice, only for a replay review to show he’d been tagged out at the plate.

“That's usually a big momentum swing, a lot of energy,” Mazza said of the Rays’ escape in the sixth. “It's one of those times where it's hard to replicate that kind of energy after something like that happens. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to keep that energy going to the next inning.”