After perfect beginning, multi-run frames hurt Bradley in 10-K start

May 21st, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- For three innings, was about as good as it gets.

The Rays’ 23-year-old right-hander struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced on Monday night, overwhelming the Red Sox with powerful fastballs and devastating offspeed stuff. The other out during Bradley’s perfect start came on a comebacker that deflected perfectly off his left foot into the glove of second baseman Brandon Lowe.

But Bradley’s cruise through Boston’s lineup was interrupted as he gave up five runs on five hits, including a pair of two-run homers, during his second trip through the order. He recovered to complete seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks, but he received no help as Red Sox starter Tanner Houck completely flummoxed the Rays lineup in Tampa Bay’s 5-0 defeat at Tropicana Field.

“Taj's stuff is electric,” Richie Palacios said. “When he goes out there, he competes. He knows what he wants to do. It's tough that we didn't come out on the top side of the ball.”

The Rays were shut out for the second time this season and, coincidentally, the second time in Bradley’s three starts. They tied a season-low mark with three hits (all singles) and drew just one walk, which finished with ball four called on a replay-reviewed violation of the infield shift rule.

The Rays didn’t safely advance a runner to second base all night as the Red Sox faced just 28 batters, one batter over the minimum.

That left the focus on Bradley, whose start was alternately fantastic and frustrating.

“I felt good with everything,” he said. “Just two swings really changed the outcome of the game and kind of made it a hard pill to swallow afterward, but there's still some highlights that I can be happy about.”

“Good” would hardly do justice to the way Bradley pitched most of the night. His fastball averaged 96 mph, touched 98.6 and generated eight swinging strikes. The Red Sox whiffed on nine of the 19 swings they took against his cutter and half of the 10 swings they attempted against his changeup.

Overall, Bradley’s career-high 22 swinging strikes were the most by a Rays pitcher this season and the club’s highest total since Tyler Glasnow also registered 22 on Sept. 6, 2023, against the Red Sox. His swing-and-miss stuff led to the second double-digit strikeout game of his career, leaving him one shy of the career-high mark he set in Oakland on June 15, 2023.

Yet he was the first Rays pitcher to work at least seven innings with double-digit strikeouts in a loss since Rich Hill struck out 13 over eight innings against the Royals on May 25, 2021. And he was the first pitcher to work at least seven walk-free innings with double-digit strikeouts while giving up at least five runs since Gerrit Cole on May 23, 2022; David Price (June 4, 2014) is the only other Ray to put together a pitching line reflecting such dominance and disappointment.

And all the damage took place in a hurry.

After breezing through the first three innings on 41 pitches, the Red Sox started hitting the ball hard in the fourth. Jarren Duran lined a 3-1 fastball high off the left-field wall for a leadoff triple, then Wilyer Abreu smashed a 1-1 changeup to right for an RBI double.

Up came Rafael Devers with one out, and Boston’s star third baseman lined an inside, 0-1 fastball out to left field. The two-run shot put the Red Sox ahead by three and extended Devers’ home run streak to a franchise-record six consecutive games.

“I thought Taj's stuff was really, really crisp, electric -- whatever you want to call it, that's about as much power as we've seen him feature,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The Red Sox made an adjustment, got a couple pitches probably left over the plate a little bit. And then you take in where Raffy Devers is right now, he's probably the hottest hitter in baseball, and he's doing a lot of special things at the plate.”

The Red Sox tacked on two more runs in the fifth, when No. 9-hitting shortstop Ceddanne Rafaela swatted an outside, 1-2 fastball to the opposite field for another two-run homer. Bradley only gave up one hit during his third turn through Boston’s lineup, but with the Rays’ bats having another silent night, the game was already out of hand.

“You pitch a certain type of way early on, and then a few things hit the fan, and kind of just pick it back up in the end,” Bradley said. “But in between, it's just like that sandwich -- like it's good, not so good, then good at the end.”