ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays’ 6-1 loss to the Orioles on Monday night at Tropicana Field was frustrating enough on its own.
After surging back for two come-from-behind wins in Atlanta over the weekend, Tampa Bay’s lineup mustered only one run on five hits against right-hander Spenser Watkins and Baltimore’s bullpen. And left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, admittedly flustered after seeing his ability to induce weak contact “working against me, backfiring a little bit,” allowed six runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings and lost for the first time since April 30.
“Really frustrating, especially because nothing really seemed like it was hit really hard today,” said Yarbrough, who fell to 6-4 with a 4.59 ERA. “It's just kind of how my season's gone a little bit at times, where you have these outings where you feel like you're throwing better than the scoreboard dictates. I guess you've got to realize it's a long season, but yeah, not gonna lie, it's starting to get pretty old.”
That led to the Rays’ first loss against the Orioles in seven meetings this season and their first loss to the O’s at home since Game 1 of a doubleheader on Sept. 3, 2019. Combined with a Red Sox win on Monday night, it also dropped the Rays from a half-game behind Boston in the American League East standings to 1 1/2 games back.
Yarbrough was especially frustrated by what transpired. The lefty threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 27 batters he faced, usually a good recipe for success. He induced plenty of soft contact, the key to his success, but he was done in by a few bloop hits in a two-run first inning that required 32 pitches to finish.
After retiring 14 of the next 15 hitters he faced, Yarbrough came out on the wrong end of a 12-pitch battle with Anthony Santander to lead off the sixth and walked him. He allowed another single, quickly recorded two more outs, then allowed two run-scoring singles with exit velocities of just 80.3 mph and 74.7 mph.
“It’s the tough part where you feel like you're doing a good job of getting that soft contact. It's just finding a lot of holes, and I feel like that makes it kind of hard to assess some things sometimes,” Yarbrough said. “It's just one of the things you kind of realize that it's all going to even out eventually.”
But the Rays’ more immediate concern, considering this was only their third loss in the last 11 games, are the injuries they sustained.
Catcher Mike Zunino exited the game in the third inning due to left hip flexor tightness, with Francisco Mejía taking his place behind the plate to begin the fourth.
Zunino said he felt his hip tighten up while he was running out of the batter’s box on his groundout in the second inning. Zunino got back behind the plate in the top of the third inning and said he could have stayed in the game if necessary, which he said was “reassuring.” But he didn’t want to run the risk of aggravating it later in the game.
“I wanted to stay ahead of it. It's one of those things where I hate putting Yarbs in that situation. I hate putting Mejía in that situation as the game went on,” Zunino said. “I think it was a safe thing to do. … I don't want to be overly confident, but I'm feeling pretty good with how it's bouncing back.”
Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays will check on Zunino on Tuesday morning. The All-Star catcher said he’s hoping it will be a short-term issue rather than something that requires a trip to the 10-day injured list. So, obviously, are the Rays.
Losing Zunino for any period of time would be another tough blow for a Rays roster that already has 12 players (including 10 pitchers) on the injured list. He earned his first career All-Star nod due in part to what he has done offensively, launching 19 homers while posting an .813 OPS. But his defense -- his receiving and his handling of Tampa Bay’s dynamic pitching staff -- is even more important to the Rays’ run-prevention foundation.
On top of Zunino’s injury, designated hitter Yandy Díaz was replaced by Vidal Bruján in the sixth inning. Díaz exited the game due to neck spasms, the Rays announced. His injury seems to be less of a concern, however, as Cash said Díaz received some treatment and medicine to calm down whatever was bothering him.
“Hopefully they're both day to day, and you never know, you might wake up and both of them feel good tomorrow,” Cash said. “Certainly that's our hope.”
Randy Arozarena drove in the Rays’ only run of the night on a sixth-inning double to deep left-center field, and he was their only player with multiple hits as Tampa Bay scored one run or none for the 17th time this season. But even he did not escape unscathed. Arozarena dived headfirst into second base as he was caught stealing in the fourth inning and came up with a bloody nose that delayed his return to right field at the start of the fifth.
"I think he's fine. I think his momentum took him a little quicker than his arms were ready to extend, and it was kind of an awkward thing,” Cash said. “I didn't recognize it as it happened, but when you got out there and you saw it on replay, [Arozarena] avoided a scare because he caught a lot of his face and upper lip area. But he seems to be OK.”