Following a disappointing series loss against the Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays departed from the Sunshine State and hit the road for an eight-game, nine-day road trip. On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the first of three games against the sub .500 Pittsburg Pirates at PNC Park, in Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay dropped two straight to a struggling Baltimore team to lose their first series since the start of June. They let a late 5-4 lead slip away on Sunday, as the bullpen once again collapsed. Alex Colome (1-3) ultimately took the loss after he allowed three uncharacteristic runs on two hits and two walks, while striking out just one in one inning of work. Still, Tampa Bay starts the series three-games behind the Yankees and Red Sox, who are in a virtual tie for first place in the AL East.
The Rays acquired Adeiny Hechevarria from the Marlins on Monday, giving them an elite glove at shortstop. He won’t do much at the plate, however, Hechevarria will shore up the defense up the middle. He is expected to join the team on the road in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, the Pirates missed a chance to sweep St. Louis and fell five games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central. In the series finale, Pittsburgh led 4-2 they gave up two runs in the sixth and four in the seventh. Juan Nicasio (1-4) took the loss after he allowed four of those runs (three earned) on one hit and two walks in one-third of an inning. The Pirates are limited by the PED suspension of Starling Marte, and injuries to Antonio Bastardo and Francisco Cervelli — the latter of which is dealing with the lingering symptoms of a concussion. On Thursday, the team put Cervelli back on the DL, where he’ll likely remain for the duration of this series.
The Rays are 5-1 in their last six interleague road games overall, and 4-0 in their last four interleague road games against a team with a losing record. On the flip side, the Pirates are 0-4 in their last four interleague games against a right-handed starter — of which they’ll face two over the life of the series.
Kevin Cash will lean on Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05 ERA, 4.15 FIP), Blake Snell (with AAA 5-0, 2.66 ERA, 3.09 FIP), and Chris Archer (6-4, 3.88 ERA, 2.89 FIP) over the next three days. Clint Hurdle will counter with Trevor Williams (2-2, 5.01 ERA, 4.11 FIP), Ivan Nova (7-5, 3.06 ERA, 3.79 FIP), and Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.33 ERA, 3.79 FIP).
Cobb delivered his third consecutive quality start (the seventh in his last 10 games) in a 6-5 win over the Reds, on Tuesday. The right-hander threw seven innings of two run ball, notching six strikeouts. It was his second straight outing of more than 110 pitches. For what it’s worth, Cobb has gotten more comfortable with his changeup of late, and it’s regained some of its pre-surgery depth; the thing that made it such a dangerous weapon in the first place. He has shaved two-to-three inches of vertical movement off the pitch since the start of the season. For Cobb, the velocity never has been what’s made the pitch deadly, rather it is the movement. Bereft of the late break, his split-change became a meatball over the plate that begged to be crushed.
Williams struck out a career-high seven batters, while allowing three runs over six innings against the Brewers. Since moving from the bullpen, he has pitched into the sixth inning in five of his nine starts. He, however, has a 5.34 ERA at home this season, and a 5.09 through 58-1/3 innings overall. Why the inflated peripherals? Williams has allowed hitters to elevate, and has stranded just 63.2% of baserunners this season. That bodes well for a Rays team that’s shown the ability to string together some hits and knock the ball out of the park.
Snell rejoins the rotation after making adjustments at Triple-A Durham, where he posted a pristine 5-0 record. Something clicked with the southpaw, and he struck out 61 over 44 innings to pair with a 2.66 ERA/3.10 FIP in Durham — this, after fanning 34 in 42 innings with a 6.00 ERA with the Rays. He pitched into the seventh inning in all but two of those starts.
Nova allowed four runs on 11 hits over seven innings against the Brewers on Thursday. He has thrown at least six innings in each of his 15 starts this season. The 30 year-old right-hander owns a 2.53 ERA in seven home outings this year, partially because of his impeccable control this season. He’s walked a paltry 11 batters over 103-2/3 innings of work this season, but due to all that strike throwing, he has been known to allow the long-ball. Nova is 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA in 16 starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (5-11, HR, 2 RBI), Corey Dickerson (1-4, HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (11-38, 2 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 4 BB), Wilson Ramos (1-3)
Archer received plenty of run support in a 15-5 win over the Orioles, which is good because he wasn’t particularly great. Archer gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits over six innings on Friday. He also fanned a season-low four batters. The Rays hope their ace can bounce back in the series finale on Thursday.
Taillon hurled six strong innings and struck out seven on Friday, holding the Cardinals to two runs on four hits. This season Taillon has relied upon a mid-90s fastball (both two and four seam), and an upper 80s changeup. The 25 year-old right-hander isn’t a strikeout machine, rather he gets by by coaxing ground balls and slowing down the pace of the game if/when runners get aboard. That approach has its virtues and disadvantages, as Taillon has posted three starts without an earned run, and three starts with at least four. Key Matchup: Adeiny Hechavarria (1-2)
— Brad Boxberger will make another rehab appearance for the Stone Crabs Tuesday night. Boxberger had oblique tightness after his last appearance for the Durham Bulls and was not activated over the weekend as expected. If all goes well, he could be activated during this series.