The Tampa Bay Rays travel from one Washington to the other, where they are set to start a brief, two-game Interleague series with the Nationals on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay followed a five game win streak by dropping four in a row — including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Mariners — while Washington dropped three of four to Atlanta after winning six straight against the Marlins and Orioles (respectively).
Expect a low scoring series. Neither team has been the definition of “offensive juggernaut” this season, with the Rays playing to a .558 winning percentage, by way of BaseRuns, thanks to a +30 run differential, while the Nationals have been moderately better via the same metric, playing to a .601 WP% thanks to a +52 run differential.
The similarities between the two are even more glaring when you look at what Tampa Bay and Washington has done in the batter’s box of late, with the Rays eking out just a touch more offensive production over the past two weeks.
What’s more, both pitching staffs have been incredibly stingy the last two weeks, with the Rays’ hurlers performing to a combined 2.31 ERA/3.13 FIP (starters 2.22 ERA/2.13 FIP, relievers 2.36 ERA/3.79 FIP) over that span. The Nationals’ pitching staff has also been impressive, performing to a combined 2.12 ERA/3.04 FIP (starters 2.69 ERA/3.00 FIP, relievers 1.13 ERA/3.12 FIP) over the last 14 days.
Kevin Cash will lean on Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and the Rays bullpen, while friend of the Rays Dave Martinez will counter with Max Scherzer (9-1, 1.92 ERA) and Tanner Roark (2-6, 3.61 ERA).
Nathan Eovaldi spent last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, then missed the first two months after having arthroscopic surgery for loose bodies in his pitching elbow. Yet at long last, the flame throwing righty made his highly anticipated return to the mound and did not disappoint. After he walked the second batter of the game, Matt Olson, with one out in the first, Eovaldi went to work and retired the next 17 batters in order.
Eovaldi relied primarily on his upper 90’s fastball (topping out at 98 mph), and worked quickly and efficiently on the mound, needing just 70 pitches (46 strikes, 66% strike ratio, 32 fastball) to burn through the Athletics’ lineup. He lived at the top of the zone, and just off the plate, but brought his fastball back over the black occasionally. He also leaned on his splitter (14 thrown, eight strikes, three whiffs) and slider (nine thrown, five strikes, one whiff) when he needed a punch out, and his cutter to coax weak contact (seven ground ball and fly ball outs).
Sure, he got some help from the fielders behind him — Johnny Field made a sliding catch in the third and then a leaping grab on Matt Joyce to end the frame, Carlos Gomez made a diving catch on Pinder’s liner in the sixth — but the fact that he was able to limit hard contact speaks volumes.
Max Scherzer picked up his ninth win of the season on Wednesday, scattering two hits and a walk over eight scoreless frames while fanning 12. Scherzer took out his frustrations, from a poor start two turns ago, on an overmatched Orioles’ lineup that didn’t get a runner into scoring position until Manny Machado hit a one-out double in the seventh inning. The 33 year-old right-hander has now struck out double-digit batters in eight of 12 starts this season, carrying a 1.92 ERA into his start on Tuesday. This season Scherzer he has relied primarily on his whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball with slight armside run, while also mixing in an 84 mph changeup that dives down and out of the zone, a whiffy 86 mph slider boasting two-plane movement, an 89 mph cutter that has some natural sink, and a 79 mph curveball. He is 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA in eight career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (1-3, RBI), Matt Duffy (2-2, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Carlos Gomez (1-4), Brad Miller (1-3, HR, RBI), Wilson Ramos (1-2), Mallex Smith (2-4)
The Rays have not yet announced a starter for Wednesday’s bullpen day. I will update this when one becomes apparent.
Tanner Roark allowed two runs on two hits in a loss on Sunday against Atlanta. Roark entered the game in the ninth with the score tied at two, yet allowed two hits that would cost Washington — a double to Dansby Swanson, followed by a walkoff home run to Charlie Culberson. Roark, in spite of that out of the ordinary relief appearance, has taken a loss in each of his last two appearances. His 2-6 record is misleading, as the 31 year-old sits with decent peripherals, and has demonstrated the ability to work deeply into games, pitching six or more innings across all but one of his 12 turns this season. This season Roark has relied primarily on his 92 mph sinker using a two-seam fastball grip, while also mixing in a 92 mph four-seam fastball, a 75 mph curveball with exceptional bite and slight glove-side movement, an 85 mph slider, and an 84 mph changeup with a ton of backspin and some armside run. In spite of an opposing .289 BA/.319 OBP/.356 SLG/.675 OPS line from Tampa Bay, Roark is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in one lone start against the Rays. Key Matchups: Christian Arroyo (1-2, 2B), Matt Duffy (1-3), Carlos Gomez (2-3), Brad Miller (3-3, 2B)