Bradley bounces back, offense can't follow suit

June 9th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- A week ago at Camden Yards, and Kyle Bradish combined to give up 14 runs on 16 hits and six walks while recording only 18 outs between them. It was, as Bradish told reporters afterward, “a bad day to be a starting pitcher in Baltimore.”

Saturday, a completely different story unfolded in the Rays’ 5-0 loss to the Orioles at Tropicana Field. It was a good day to be a starting pitcher, for both Bradley and Bradish, but a particularly tough day to be a Tampa Bay hitter.

Bradley bounced back admirably from arguably the toughest start of his young career, holding the powerful and patient Orioles lineup to just one run while striking out seven over five innings before they broke the game open against reliever Phil Maton in the ninth. But Bradish was practically untouchable for Baltimore, limiting the Rays to just one baserunner in his six innings of work.

Yandy Díaz was responsible for both of Tampa Bay’s season-low two hits on the day: a leadoff infield single in the first inning and a two-out single to center in the ninth. In between, Bradish and two Baltimore relievers retired 26 consecutive batters.

“We know how talented that group is over there. We know how talented Bradish is, for sure, and he had everything going today,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Both pitchers did a good job of making an adjustment and keeping their teams in the game, and it got separated there at the end.”

It was a feeble offensive showing for the Rays as they were shut out for the fourth time this season, with all four coming in their last 26 games since May 10. They only hit three balls to the outfield: two outs and Díaz’s ninth-inning single. They had 14 strikeouts (one shy of their season-high mark), no walks (for the sixth time this season) and only four hard-hit balls.

The Rays’ No. 5-9 hitters went a combined 0-for-15 with 11 strikeouts. While the Orioles grinded out at-bats and forced Tampa Bay to throw 206 pitches, the Rays only saw 129 pitches from the Orioles as they fell back to two games below .500.

Afterward, the Rays credited Bradish -- who was pitching on two extra days’ rest -- but once again had to acknowledge that their inconsistent lineup must improve.

“We really just got to dig deep at this point. It seems like we play three, four or five games in a row that go our way and go pretty well, and then we go out there and run into a game like this,” outfielder Josh Lowe said. “At the end of the day, there's no excuse for who's on the mound against us. We've got to go out there and we've got to take initiative ourselves and have good at-bats and put it all together.

“I think we have the guys in the clubhouse to do this. I think everybody else here wants to win. We want to play well. This sucks, going through stuff like this, but we've just got to take it upon ourselves to go out there and have one good at-bat at a time and pass it on to the next guy.”

If there was a silver lining, it was the way Bradley rebounded against the same lineup that roughed him up last time out.

After he gave up a career-high nine runs on a career-high-tying nine hits and four home runs, the damage done against Bradley on Saturday consisted of a Ryan O’Hearn solo homer in the fourth. Bradley only allowed two other hits, both singles, and one walk.

The 23-year-old right-hander struck out seven and recorded 18 swinging strikes, the second-highest total of his career and tied for the second-most by a Rays pitcher this season, including 10 on the fastball he shied away from during his last start.

“I just felt like [I made] better pitches,” Bradley said. “I used all four and just kept using them consistently, and just able to beat them on some pitches in the zone.”

But the Orioles were relentless, refusing to be put away easily despite Bradley’s electric stuff and solid strike-throwing. It took him 99 pitches to get through 19 batters over five innings, and 42 of those pitches came in two-strike counts. That forced the Rays to use five relievers, and Maton gave up a three-run homer to Gunnar Henderson in the ninth.

“He threw a heck of a ballgame. You've got to credit the Oriole hitters, though -- a lot of deep counts and a lot of foul balls. They hung in there and gave tough at-bats,” Cash said of Bradley. “But for him to go through that lineup and give up one run through five, we should be in a pretty good spot.”