Rays encounter familiar struggles in loss to Braves

June 16th, 2024

ATLANTA -- It was a struggle all the way around for the Rays on Saturday afternoon against the Braves.

Tampa Bay pitchers gave up four home runs while the offense tallied two runs on six hits and six walks, earning a 9-2 loss and dropping the series at Truist Park.

Like Friday’s game, the Rays got runners to second and third with less than two outs in the first inning. Also like Friday, they scored just one run -- on a Josh Lowe sacrifice fly. Tampa Bay’s second run came on a Randy Arozarena solo home run in the top of the ninth.

The Rays (33-38) have lost seven of their past nine.

“[It was] very similar to [Friday],” manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve got to find a way to get more [runs] in there. I liked the at-bat by Josh. Josh swung the bat well. In two at-bats today, he hit the ball deep, but the offense is scuffling right now.”

Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton had little trouble against his former team.

Morton, who pitched for the Rays from 2019-20, took advantage of Tampa Bay’s struggling offense as he allowed one run on three hits and two walks while striking out eight over six innings.

“Charlie was good,” Cash said. “He had a good feel for all of his offspeed pitches; certainly the breaking balls -- the cutter and the curveball. He kind of pitched around the fastball. We didn’t make enough adjustments on those offspeed pitches.”

“[Not putting up more runs in the first] killed [our momentum], sure, but [Morton] is a veteran pitcher,” Lowe said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s pitched in moments like that and even bigger. It hurts to not get multiple runs across, but at least we did get one in the moment. We just kind of have to take the small victories when we get them.”

It was the 22nd time this season the Rays scored two or fewer runs in a loss. Their team batting average of .232 ranks 22nd in the Majors, and they are tied with the Marlins with an MLB-low 54 home runs.

“[We need to] find a way just to replicate what we do in the first inning,” Lowe said. “For some reason, it seems like we come out with hair on fire in the first inning and play our best baseball in the first inning and ninth inning, too. We go to sleep after that.”

It was a rough outing for Rays starting pitcher Ryan Pepiot, who surrendered five earned runs on six hits, including three home runs, and three walks over 4 2/3 innings.

Pepiot was unscathed the first two times around Atlanta’s order as he posted four scoreless innings. In the bottom of the fifth, though, he allowed five runs on three homers. After a leadoff walk to Sean Murphy, Pepiot got two outs. But then Jarred Kelenic got the Braves going with a two-run home run. Ozzie Albies walked and was driven in by a Marcell Ozuna two-run homer, and Matt Olson went back-to-back to give Atlanta a 5-1 advantage.

“I was just one pitch away,” Pepiot said. “I walked Murphy, Kelenic comes up on a full count. I just didn’t make the pitch. I just left it over the plate. He smoked it. After that, I let Albies get another full count, I yanked a cutter down [for a walk]. I get behind Ozuna, and he smashes it out of the park. Same thing with Olson. I wanted to go fastball up and away, I pulled it down right into his bat loop. [That’s] three mistakes right there.”

Austin Riley added to the Braves’ total with a three-run home run off reliever Garrett Cleavinger in the bottom of the seventh that also came with two outs.

“They’re just a bunch of good hitters,” Cash said. “It was just a matter of time for them to get going. Unfortunately, it’s taking place while we’re here.”

The Rays will look to avoid the sweep in Sunday’s series finale.

“We play 162 games, you can’t get wrapped up on one or two at-bats,” Lowe said. “Personally, I think I’ve had 70-ish at-bats now. Look at Aaron Judge, for instance. He went his first 90 at-bats and hit [about] .170. I don’t think anyone thinks about those first 90 at-bats that he’s had now. I’ve talked about this in years past. We have to take this one day at a time, one pitch at a time and one at-bat at a time.”