What a difference a few days make. Five days ago, we were looking at a Rays team that had dropped two games after holding a pair of sizeable leads. And though the offense was strong, the pitching was shaky at best — especially the bullpen. Fast forward to Mother’s Day. The Rays completed a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres and are over .500 for the first time this season. What’s more, they look primed to to do damage against their AL East Rivals this week, the Boston Red Sox.
Backed by a stellar defense, above average pitching, and timely hitting, the Rays looked like the Rays of old Sunday afternoon. Though starter Roberto Hernandez had a pair of shaky innings in the fourth and fifth, he was good overall, throwing six innings of two-run baseball. Hernandez limited the Padres’ offense to a pair of two one-run innings, giving the Rays a chance to stay in the game. The veteran righty posted a 6.0 IP/5 H/2 R/2 ER/2 BB/4 K/1 HR slash line, working primarily off his sinker which he threw for strikes 66% of the time, while generating seven ground outs.
The much maligned Jake McGee would come on in relief of Hernandez in the seventh inning, putting together his second solid 1-2-3 inning of the last three days. Here’s to hope that this is the mark of a trend for the Rays left handed reliever. After Joel Peralta handled the eighth inning, the plantain wielding Fernando Rodney came on to close out the game in the ninth. Rodney still hasn’t put together a clean inning this season after giving up a two-out walk to Jesus Guzman. He, however, struck out two Sunday and has — by all accounts — regained his velocity and control. Though purely anecdotal, I’m a firm believer that his placement on the rubber has had a drastic effect on the location of his pitches. He recently shifted back to the first base side of the the rubber, and his last few outings have been vastly improved.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the Rays outstanding glove work. Sam Fuld made an excellent leaping catch at the wall in the first inning, easily robbing Will Venable of a double. Not to be outdone, Yunel Escobar made a diving stop — ranging to his left — to end the sixth inning. And Matt Joyce made his best Willie Mays impersonation, making an over the shoulder basket catch, robbing Chris Denorfia of at least a double in the ninth.
The Rays offense was held largely in check by the soft tossing Eric Stults, who did a good job of inducing weakly hit ground-outs and pop-outs in his 5-1/3 innings of work. Tampa Bay was able to take advantage if him, scoring the bulk of their runs in the second and sixth innings. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Jose Molina hit a sac fly to plate the Rays first run of the day. In the sixth inning, Evan Longoria lead things off with a double to deep left center, and was moved to third on a James Loney fly-ball. Sean Rodriguez plated the tying run, hitting a soft single into center field to. Yunel Escobar followed that up with an RBI double off the right field wall. James Loney added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning, blasting a 392 ft. homer to right field — his second home run in as many days.
The Tampa Bay Rays are now 19-18, over .500 for the first time this season. They’re also on a five game winning streak. Tampa Bay will start an important three game set against the BoSox Tuesday, at Tropicana Field. We’ll have a series preview for you Monday, dear readers.