Skidding Rays starting to feel some urgency

Series opener vs. Jays gets out of hand early as Tampa Bay falls for 11th time in 15 games

July 3rd, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With 82 games down and 80 to go, the Rays find themselves in somewhat of a rut.

The Rays fell behind early on Friday, managed only five hits on the night, struck out 10 times against starter Alek Manoah and lost to the Blue Jays, 11-1, at Sahlen Field. It was Tampa Bay’s 11th loss in its last 15 games, with a four-game winning streak sandwiched between losing streaks of seven and now four.

It’s hard to be too despondent about where the Rays stand, even as they’ve lost nine straight on the road and the last two by a combined score of 26-7. They reached the halfway point of the season on Wednesday with a 47-34 record, third-best in franchise history behind a pair of seasons when they won the American League East. Their incredible May gave them some breathing room in the division, even as well as the Blue Jays have played lately.

But there is some cause for concern, especially with the Red Sox pulling 4 1/2 games ahead atop the division. At the very least, it’s clear the Rays need to break out of this skid before it gets any worse.

“We're a good team that's not playing very well right now. I think that's fair to say,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know we had a little bit better homestand where we won a series. These last two games, I don't think are an indication of who we are, but it's ultimately up to us to try to turn things around. We need to do that.”

It didn’t happen on Friday night. Called up from Triple-A Durham before the game and optioned back to the Minors immediately afterward, right-hander allowed a two-run homer to George Springer in the first inning then struggled through a four-run, 30-pitch second inning that displayed the depth of Toronto’s lineup and turned on his own mistakes.

Patiño issued a leadoff walk to Cavan Biggio after getting ahead in the count, 0-2. Then, attempting to start a double play on Randal Grichuk’s comebacker, the right-hander threw wide of Brandon Lowe at second base to put runners on the corners.

“I just didn't get the good transfer. I didn't really feel it in the glove right away, and that's something that I'm going to have to work on,” Patiño said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I knew I should have made a better play, but because of what happened, I've just got to learn from it and try to work on it.”

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. capitalized with an RBI single to left, Marcus Semien beat out a double-play grounder to plate another run and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. knocked an RBI single to right.

“Our strategy at the time was to attack the zone,” catcher Francisco Mejía said. “They just got to barrel up a couple balls in that inning.”

Patiño settled down after that, retiring 10 straight hitters to work into the sixth inning. He exited after two singles, a wild pitch and a strikeout in the sixth, then the Jays put up another run on a wild pitch by Jeffrey Springs, who served up homers to Semien and Guerrero in the seventh. By then, the Rays were already in a hole they couldn’t dig out of.

Patiño’s return to the rotation continued a troublesome trend for a Tampa Bay team built on run prevention. Since June 15, the day after Tyler Glasnow left his start with a partially torn UCL and flexor strain, Rays starters are 2-4 with a 5.25 ERA in 15 games.

The Rays’ lineup provided no support in the series opener, however. Manoah didn’t allow a hit until Mejía dropped a bloop double into shallow center field with one out in the sixth inning. Tampa Bay finished the night with 12 strikeouts and one walk, and the Rays' only run scored on consecutive doubles by Mejía and Brandon Lowe in the eighth inning. That was more than they mustered against Manoah, who allowed three hits and a walk over seven innings.

“You could tell he was feeling good, and he got on a little bit of a rhythm where it just made it really tough for us to get anything going against him,” Cash said.

The Rays have played some close games during this tough stretch, as five of their last 11 losses have come either by one run or in walk-off fashion. But they went a long time without playing many games like Wednesday’s 15-6 defeat against the Nationals or Friday’s lopsided loss.

Consider: From May 1-June 17, the Rays played a franchise-record 43 straight games that they either won or lost by three runs or fewer. In the last two weeks, they’ve lost five games by four runs or more. By the eighth inning on Friday, the game was so far out of hand that outfielder Brett Phillips took the mound and floated 46- to 50-mph pitches at the Jays in his first career pitching appearance.

“The high scoring, it's kind of gotten sloppy and separated. And we're not accustomed to playing in many separated games like this,” Cash said. “So we've got to get back to our strengths and keeping it close, keeping it tight, to where our offense can come up with big hits or our defense can prevent runs in tight games.”