Rays end scoring drought, but big hit remains elusive

June 9th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- After being kept off the bases entirely for five innings Sunday afternoon, and held scoreless for 17 straight innings dating back to Friday night, the Rays finally broke through to score two runs in the sixth. But even that didn’t come easily.

The Rays had to grind out at-bats against starter Grayson Rodriguez and reliever Dillon Tate, stringing together three singles and two walks, only for Jonny DeLuca to strike out with the bases loaded. The big, game-breaking hit once again eluded them.

That has not been an issue for the Orioles. Standing in stark contrast to Tampa Bay’s scuffling lineup, Baltimore blended patience and quick-strike power as Adley Rutschman’s grand slam off struggling reliever Phil Maton put the game out of reach in the eighth inning of the Rays’ 9-2 loss to the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

“You have good times and you have bad times. It's normal for it to be frustrating,” said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “We're going through some bad moments right now. We're all getting frustrated as well.”

The Rays have lost three straight games to the Orioles and 12 of their last 18 overall, getting outscored 93-57 over that stretch. They fell to fifth in the American League East, making this the latest they’ve been in last place since the end of the 2016 season.

A day after only two of Tampa Bay’s 29 baserunners reached safely, both on singles by Díaz, Rodriguez carried a perfect game bid into the sixth without allowing so much as a single hard-hit ball.

“You've got to credit pitchers when our at-bats are like that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The last two [games], certainly, we faced two really good pitchers that had their 'A' stuff going and kept us pretty quiet.”

The quality of the Rays’ at-bats seemed to suddenly improve in the sixth. Taylor Walls worked a leadoff walk to give them their first baserunner. With two outs, Díaz capped an eight-pitch at-bat with a 108 mph line drive to center field that broke up the no-hitter.

Brandon Lowe then fouled off four pitches during a 10-pitch at-bat that ended with an RBI single to right. Randy Arozarena kept the rally going against Tate, knocking an RBI single to left on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. Josh Lowe then worked a five-pitch walk to load the bases.

But it’s difficult to sustain that sort of pressure, to constantly have to keep the line moving to produce runs, and the line stopped when DeLuca struck out. An extra-base hit at any point might have broken the inning open and changed the complexion of the game.

And those have been rare for a Rays lineup with 49 home runs (last in the Majors and 53 fewer than the MLB-leading Orioles) and a .353 slugging percentage -- better than only the Marlins and White Sox. They recorded just one extra-base hit on the day, a ninth-inning double by Ben Rortvedt, and only two hard-hit balls -- both singles by Díaz.

“It's no secret that we're not hitting,” Díaz said. “You can tell we're not scoring any runs, but all we can do is keep our head up, keep on working and stick to that work.”

As usual, starter Zack Littell did his part to keep the Rays in the game. The right-hander held the Orioles to three runs on seven hits and a walk over six innings, putting together his career-high third straight quality start (including two in a row against Baltimore) and team-leading sixth in 13 starts this season.

“Obviously you want to come out of these two games with wins, but as far as back-to-back starts, I think it’s been two of the better ones I’ve had all year,” Littell said.

But it wasn’t a close game for long. After the Rays labored to scratch across two runs, the Orioles put up two of their own in the seventh on a triple (one of a club-record-tying three the Rays allowed), two singles and a run-scoring groundout. That sequence unfolded within 11 pitches from lefty reliever Garrett Cleavinger, who had allowed just one run in 20 appearances since April 16.

Then the game got out of hand in the eighth against Maton, who gave up three hits without recording an out on Tuesday and permitted three runs while getting just one out on Saturday. After allowing a leadoff triple and two walks, he took a long look at Rutschman’s two-out, two-strike slam as it sailed out to right-center field.

“The entire body of work I'm extremely disappointed in, honestly. I was brought over here to throw meaningful innings and bridge games and get things done,” said Maton, whose ERA climbed to 6.56. “Right now, I'm just not executing pitches at a high enough level and getting guys out.”