Aaron Slegers no-hit Toronto across four innings on Saturday, while Kevin Kiermaier hit a walk-off single to left, as the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Blue Jays in extra innings, 2-1. The win, paired with a postponement in the Subway Series, allowed the Rays to slip back into first place in the AL East by 1/2 game.
The Rays enter play Sunday once again eight games over .500 with a 99.0% chance of a postseason berth, according to FanGraphs.
Slegers got the start for Tampa Bay and was fantastic across four innings of work. The right-hander held the Blue Jays hitless with just one batter reaching on Brandon Lowe’s third-inning error — his first error of the season. Slegers struck out five batters over his outing; a career-high for Slegers in a big-league game. He threw 39 of 58 pitches for strikes and induced 10 swinging strikes (67% strike rate, 26% SwStr%). After starting the season with an unsightly 11.25 ERA and a 4.92 FIP, thanks to an ugly two-plus inning, five-run outing against the Red Sox on August 12, Slegers has posted six combined scoreless frames with a seven-to-none strikeout-to-walk rate. He also has been able to lower his ERA to 5.63.
Slegers matched Blue Jays hurler Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was also on for 4/5 of his start. Yet Slegers gave way to Sean Gilmartin — husband to professional asshole Kayleigh McEnany — and he single-handily allowed Toronto to take the initial lead in the fifth. Gilmartin, who was added to the roster when Chaz Roe was placed on the Injured List (more on that below), walked Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on five pitches. Rowdy Tellez hit a pop-fly for the first out of the frame, however, Gurriel Jr. also walked to put two on with one out. After Joe Panik singled to right — Toronto’s first hit of the ball-game — and Reese McGuire struck out, Cavan Biggio walked, forcing home the first run of the contest. Gilmartin was able to find some semblance of command long enough to get Randal Grichuk to ground out to third, ending the threat.
Tampa Bay was able to answer in their half of the inning against Ryu. Willy Adames got things started with a base hit to left, then he went to third on Joey Wendle’s 3-2 base hit to left with Adames on the move. Manuel Margot grounded into a 4-6 fielder’s choice, with Adames scoring the tying run. Ryu was able to finish the frame, yet at 94 pitches, he was done for the day. The finesse lefty has given up just three runs total in his last four starts but he has gone just five or six innings in each.
The Jays could have taken the lead in the sixth and the seventh innings, although the Rays defense came up big. Gilmartin allowed a leadoff single to Travis Shaw, which, honestly isn’t a surprise to anyone, and was promptly lifted in favor of Ryan Thompson. But things didn’t appear to be on the up-and-up with a new hurler on the bump, especially when Teoscar Hernandez hit a broken-bat single to right. But, Guerrero Jr. grounded into a 3-6-1 double play, which moved Shaw up 90 feet. Tellez walked to put runners at the corners with two outs, but Gurriel Jr. hit a comebacker to end the frame.
Then in the very next inning, and after Pete Fairbanks made two 3-1 put-outs at first, Biggio hit a single to right then swiped second. Fairbanks got Grichuk to strike out, but the ball skipped past Mike Zunino, went to the backstop, and kicked toward Toronto’s dugout. Biggio got greedy and tried to score all the way from second, but he was tagged out by Fairbanks after he took the throw from Zunino. If you’re keeping track, it was the first time a pitcher has gotten all three outs in an inning in club history.
Both teams were held scoreless until the 10th inning for the second consecutive night. Yet, this time the outcome would be different.
With Anthony Bass (who got the last out in the ninth) on the mound, Margot started at second base. Yoshi Tsutsugo pulled a ground ball into the shift, allowing Margot to move up to third. Ji-Man Choi was walked intentionally as a pinch-hitter for Zunino. And even though Mike Brosseau has been hot, Kevin Kiermaier was called upon to pinch-hit against the right-hander. Kiermaier saw all of one pitch which he lined into left to end the game.
The New What Next
Game three of the four-game set. Josh Fleming will make his big-league debut on Sunday, pitching opposite of Trent Thornton.
Josh Fleming pitched well at two levels during his first full season (2018) and was even better a season later, making the jump from Double-A Montgomery — where he ranked among the Southern League leaders in wins (tied for first), ERA (fifth), WHIP (fourth) and innings (sixth) — up to Triple-A Durham, according to StatCast. MLB.com lists Fleming 29th among the Rays farmhands, and the lefty pitched to a combined 3.40 ERA over his minor league career with a 6.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, and a 53.4% ground-ball rate.
He boasts a clean delivery and a repertoire of three effective pitches: A 94 mph fastball with a ton of late sink and run, which he can spot on both sides of the plate or drive it down in the zone to coax ground balls; an above-average slider; and an average changeup. FanGraphs projects Fleming to eventually play a role in the bullpen due to his struggles against right-handed hitting.
Trent Thornton allowed six earned runs on five hits and one walk while striking out one across 2/3 of an inning on Thursday against the Phillies. Thornton couldn’t make it out of the first inning after he allowed the first six batters he faced to reach base. It appeared that he settled in when he recorded two consecutive outs, yet he was yanked from the game after he gave up an RBI double to the eighth batter of the frame. This was Thornton’s first outing since being activated from the IL with an elbow injury. Thornton is 1-1 with a 6.43 ERA in five starts (21 IP) against the Rays. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-8), Kevin Kiermaier (4-7, 2B, 3B), Brandon Lowe (3-5, 2B, HR), Austin Meadows (7-12, 2B, 3 HR)
You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.
Rays 8/23/20 Starting Lineup
- Lowe RF
- Díaz 3B
- Choi 1B
- Tsutsugo DH
- Wendle 2B
- Adames SS
- Kiermaier CF
- Pérez C
— Another day, another player on the shelf. Chaz Roe was placed on the 10-day IL retroactive to August 20th with right elbow soreness. To create roster space for Gilmartin, who is currently taking Roe’s place on the active roster, the Rays moved RHP Yonny Chirinos to the 45-day IL.
Per Neil Solondz (Rays Radio), manager Kevin Cash said the good news is that Roe’s elbow is structurally sound and after a couple of days off from throwing the hope is the stay on the injured list will be a relatively short one. In addition, Cash says Oliver Drake and Charlie Morton both played catch today and said both sessions went well. Morton did not yet have a timeline but plans to throw a bullpen in the next couple of days.
— Díaz is back in the lineup after being scratched Saturday before the first pitch. Díaz was removed as a precaution due to dizziness after being struck in the face by his own batted ball during batting practice.
— Tampa Bay has now won 10 games in which they’ve trailed, seven games in their final at-bat, and three in walk-off fashion, including two over Toronto.