Most of you are well aware of the 9-0 lashing suffered by the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday night. Ouch! In the words of our web guy Adam, that game was no bueno. To put it bluntly, Jake Odorizzi was good though you’d never know it by merely taking a glance at the final score. Rather CJ Riefenhauser and Grant Balfour (with a little help from Steven Souza Jr.) teamed up to allow seven runs (six earned) in just one inning.
Instead of recapping the entire game — face it, that would be torturous — below are a few criticisms of Saturday night’s contest. (floater would have been an acceptable synonym as well)
— Steven Souza Jr. should assume responsibility for four of the nine runs. The outfield at Tropicana Field can be a challenge at best. Having to contend with the roof makes for a formidable opponent not found in any of the other 29 stadiums around Major League Baseball. However, the roof had nothing to do with the two fielding gaffes by Souza Jr.
In the sixth inning, Brian McCann sent a laser shot off the top of the wall in right field. What looked to be a three run homer was merely a two run triple. Instead of playing the carom, Souza Jr. attempted what would have been an extraordinary play — Leaping to snare the liner, yet missing by a good foot-and-a-half. The ball bounded away as two runs scored and McCann found his way to third.
Rays Manager Kevin Cash talked about the play following the game, noting that Souza Jr. went a long way to make the play, and it would have been tough to complete it:
In the seventh inning, Souza Jr. again attempted to make an extraordinary play, this time on a fly-ball off the bat of Stephen Drew. The right-fielder once more jumped to catch the ball, which he did…for the moment. When he came down, however, the ball popped out of his glove. Desmond Jennings backed up Souza Jr. and fielded the ball before it could roll a great distance away.
Both plays proved costly to the tune of four runs.
— Kevin Cash’s management of the bullpen, as well as the relievers, allowed the game to spiral out of control. To illustrate this point, what follows is a screen shot of the seventh inning play log from FanGraphs.
Cash quickly pulled Jake Odorizzi after the starter allowed a lead-off walk of Chase Headly, opting instead for the lefty CJ Riefenhauser. I understand Cash’s line of thinking: put the lefty in the game to face the left handed bat of Stephen Drew. The plan was solid, although the execution was well off the mark. Riefenhauser gave up a double, a sac-fly, and a pair of singles before being pulled in favor of everyone’s favorite high leverage reliever, Grant Balfour.
Balfour, who was ultimately designated for assignment following the game (more on that below), proceeded to walk three batters, hit McCann with a pitch, throw a wild pitch, allow a run to score on a sac fly, and put the game out of reach with a grand slam off the bat of Chris Young.
Jose Dominguez entered the game in the eighth inning and put together two clean frames, while facing the minimum number of batters over the span. Although he gave up a lead-off hit to Jacoby Ellsbury in the eighth, Dominguez quickly coaxed a double play to clear the base paths, then followed to strike out Alex Rodriguez swinging. His ninth inning was even better. Dominguez forced a pair of routine ground ball outs, with a swinging strikeout sprinkled in between for good measure.
You may be asking, what exactly am I getting at?
Dominguez faced the most potent part of the Yankees lineup in his time on the mound — the part of the lineup that neither Riefenhauser nor Balfour could put away. I won’t endeavor to say the eighth or ninth innings were as intense as the seventh, yet neither Riefenhauser, who doesn’t have much major league experience to speak of, nor Balfour, who is supposedly a high leverage reliever, could effectively work around the sole base runner left by Odorizzi. Dominguez, on the other hand, saw just six batters and used only 24 pitches. Food for thought.
The New What Next
Matt Andriese will take the ball for the Rays on Sunday. Andriese made the first start of his Major League career on Tuesday, allowing two runs in 3-2/3 innings in a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays. Michael Pineda (1-0, 5.11 ERA) will take the hill for the Yankees. He is 1-1 with a 2.88 ERA in four career starts against Tampa Bay. You can read about the pitching match-up in our series preview.
Rays 4/19/15 Starting Lineup
— Grant Balfour, designated for assignment. Balfour was designated for assignment after the 9-0 loss Saturday night. Balfour allowed three runs, one hit and three walks in two-thirds of an inning, including Chris Young’s grand slam. The Rays selected the contract of right-hander Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham, and he will replace Balfour on the 25-man roster. The Rays will likely eat Balfour’s $7 million contract and release him from his contract.
Balfour told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) he would take some time before deciding whether to pursue other opportunities if they arise, also saying,
You’re one pitch away from getting out of a tough situation and you sort of think to yourself, wow, you could have struck the guy out there, had him 0-2, and you walk out of there thinking you did a good job tonight, you haven’t given up a run all season, six outings. Instead you have a terrible outing. You walk some guys, it wasn’t a good outing. It’s not really something I want to finish on. … I always told myself I wanted to be the one to leave this game, not someone else. So we’ll see, we’ll see where it goes.
Assuming the RHP clears waivers, it is doubtful that Balfour will accept an assignment to Triple-A Durham. Moreover, with the continued decline of his fastball, compounded with what could (should?) be perceived as a lack in the ability to command his pitches and attack the zone, it sounds as if Balfour has resigned himself to the idea that this is the end of his career.
Make no mistake, the irony of the announcement is ripe — as of 2:30 AM Eastern Time, Balfour is a Hall-of-Famer. And while neither his 2014 performance nor the start of the 2015 season suggests he could continue as an effective major league pitcher, we shouldn’t forget what the reliever meant to the organization. Never forget the “Sit the fuck down” moment against Orlando Cabrera in the 2008 ALCS. His fiery nature and competitiveness went a long way in legitimizing the Rays bullpen.
Ian Malinowski (DRaysBay) brought up a good point, once our reactionary feelings for Balfour come to pass, we should offer a reflective “thank you” toward The Mad Australian:
Careers end, and the end is rarely graceful. Balfour’s was not. He will go down as both one of Andrew Friedman’s great successes and as one of his chief failures. Both of those make him an important part of Rays history.
For the sake of this season right now, good riddance. But for anyone with the ability to understand something other than the present, that’s not right at all. The appropriate response of Rays fans to the likely end of Balfour’s career is “Thank you.”
— Rays injury watch. It looks like James Loney will return to the lineup by the weekend. Likewise depending on the quality of his start in Jacksonville Sunday, and if the front office thinks he’s ready to return to the rotation, Drew Smyly could be back by the weekend as well; Tampa Bay has yet to announce a starter for the April 25th game against the Blue Jays.