The Tampa Bay Rays return home from a 5-3 road trip, where they are set to start a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.
Even though they dropped the series against Detroit, the Rays are turning things around. Tampa Bay comes in 13-16 on the season after winning seven of their last 10 games, and enter the weekend four games back of the 18-13 Blue Jays and 8.5 games out of first. Rays 1B/DH C.J. Cron comes into the series riding a 10-game hit streak, and is averaging .265 with seven home runs and 19 RBI.
Meanwhile, Toronto has won just six of the last 15 games, although the Jays did put up 13 runs against Cleveland on Wednesday, in the first game of a double-header. 3B Josh Donaldson was activated from the disabled list on Thursday after missing 18 games with right shoulder inflammation. Donaldson was hitting .239 with three homers and nine RBI hitting the DL. He could see some time as designated hitter.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Andrew Kittredge (1-2, 6.23 ERA), Jake Faria (2-1, 4.60 ERA), and Chris Archer (2-2, 6.05 ERA). John Gibbons will counter with JA Happ (4-1, 3.50 ERA), Aaron Sanchez (2-2, 4.06 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale on Sunday.
Andrew Kittredge will get the start on Friday after Yonny Chirinos was placed on the 10-day DL earlier this week (more on that below). The 28 year-old right hander has given up nine runs over 13 innings of work, however, six of those runs came in 1-2/3 innings of work against the Phillies and Red Sox. To his credit, Kittredge has shown good command inside of the strike zone and has limited lefties to zero runs and a .176 batting average. He likes to keep the ball on the ground, and when he does he’s pretty successful. The Jays have been fairly pedestrian, offensively speaking, over the last 14 days, so perhaps that was part of Cash’s thinking in starting a reliever that hasn’t pitched multiple innings in April 5.
JA Happ allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings in a win on Sunday over Texas. Happ’s control was on display, as he threw 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes (67% strike ratio) and didn’t allow a single free pass. He did allow a home run, his sixth of the season, although he was able to recover and fanned nine batters. He’s now reached the seven-inning mark in two consecutive games and has punched out at least nine batters four times this season. He has relied primarily on a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball with some added backspin and a worm-burner 91 mph sinker, while also mixing in an 87 mph slider and a hard 87 mph changeup.
The southpaw made four starts at Tropicana Field since 2015, going 0-0 with a 4.64 ERA. He is 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA in seven starts against the Rays during that span. Per Baseball Savant, Happ has limited the current Rays roster to a .224 batting average in 76 at-bats, and owns a 3.77 FIP against them with a 15% strikeout rate and a 3.8% walk rate (3.95 K/BB). Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (3-7, HR, 3 RBI), Carlos Gomez (5-20, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Brad Miller (2-8), Wilson Ramos (1-3), Rob Refsnyder (1-3, 2B)
Jake Faria became the first Tampa Bay hurler to pitch eight full innings in a ball game since Alex Cobb in July of 2017. After a first inning walk of the number two hitter, Jeimer Candelario, the right-hander coaxed a ground ball double play and went to work. Faria was sharp over the balance of his start, mixing fastballs and off speed stuff, while limiting deep counts, and maintaining a quick pace. The right-hander blanked the Tigers and allowed just three hits and one walk. He fanned six, relying heavily on his four-seam fastball to set up his splitter, which he got most his whiffs on.
Aaron Sanchez allowed four runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts over six innings on Monday against the Twins. It was the first time in five starts that Sanchez failed to record a quality start, although his offense bailed him out with six runs in the first five innings. The ground baller added another 10 to his total, but his control wasn’t there and he threw just 55 strikes in 93 pitches (59% strike ratio), walked three batters, and hit another. Sanchez’s 4.06 ERA is due in large part to a 4.3 BB/9, not to mention that he also has now hit six batters. This season he has relied primarily on a 94 mph sinker with obvious tailing action, a hard 89 mph changeup with arm-side fade, and a whiffy 94 mph four-seam fastball, while also mixing in a 79 mph curveball with downward bite and glove-side movement. Key Matchups: Mallex Smith (1-1, 2 BB), Jesus Sucre (2-3, 2B)
Chris Archer allowed two runs on six hits and a walk over six innings on Tuesday. He struck out six. Archer scattered baserunners for the most part, allowing single runs in the third and fifth innings en route to his second quality start of the season. The right-hander pitched well enough to earn a win, however, Matthew Boyd twirled a gem of his own on the other end, and sunk him to his second loss. Archer wasn’t too impressive over his first four starts, although he’s gone at least six innings while allowing exactly two earned runs in two of his last three outings to lower his bloated ERA to 6.05. With a .365 BABIP but a 3.10 FIP over the last 14-days, it would be pretty safe to safe Archer has been dragon-bit to an extent.
I will update this piece when Sunday’s starter for Toronto is announced.
— Yonny Chirinos has been diagnosed as having a mild flexor strain, although an MRI showed no structural damage.
The right-hander was placed on the 10-day DL prior to Tuesday night’s game. And while a “forearm strain” is typically the precursor to Tommy John surgery, that won’t be the case with Chirinos.
Southpaw Ryan Yarbrough was recalled from Triple-A Durham following the roster move.
— RHP Nathan Eovaldi will make a rehab start for the Class-A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs on Friday. Eovaldi went on the DL before the season started after having loose bodies removed from his right elbow. He is on track to be activated by the end of the month.