ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays continue to try to hold onto this young baseball season.
They should rub Michael Pineda’s neck for good luck, or at least a better grip.
And bake Erik Bedard a retirement cake while they’re at it.
Theirs is a tenuous grip at the moment, a 10-12 record after a 9-7 loss to the Twins at the Trop before leaving on a long trip that goes through Chicago, Boston and New York.
No one will come out and say it, least of all merry Joe Maddon, but right now it’s about surviving, waging a holding action, staying at or around .500 for the next month or more, hoping for the return of healthy arms and that no one in the AL East goes on a winning rampage, lest this win-the-division deal goes out the window before June rolls around. That’s a long way from preseason hope and hype.
Maddon refuses to succumb to a .500 mindset.
“I have never been that guy,” he said. “I’ll never give in to that thought.”
The Rays are nevertheless trying to hang on until they have a semblance of their 2013 starting pitching — until Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb return to the rotation in late May, or is it early June? I’m not even sure what they’ll get from Hellickson when he is back. Cobb will be Cobb, since he remained Cobb even after that liner rocked his skull last season. But Matt Moore is already done after Tommy John surgery.
These are staggering blows.
By the way, is Tommy John available?
The Rays can handle only so many more days like Thursday, so many Erik Bedard starts and mounting bullpen innings.
Bedard, who wasn’t any good in spring training, either, kicked things off Thursday by channeling his inner Scott Kazmir with a tortuous 41-pitch first inning that saw him give up three runs on two hits ... and four walks. Even as it unfolded, you knew it was 20 minutes of our lives none of us were going to get back, unforgivable, as it was Senior Citizens Day at the Trop.
That Bedard lasted four innings was a miracle, as was the fact that the Rays were very much in the game, only down 4-3. But they were down worse than that after the bullpen joined in and Heath Bell, in his earliest entry into a game in seven years, gave up five runs, three on a home run.
Bedard, 35, has a 10.00 ERA over his two starts. He said he did not throw strikes Thursday. Bell, who has an 8.25 ERA, said he did not execute his pitches Thursday.
We’ll have more news in a moment.
It’s a frightful picture for Rays’ starting pitching at the moment, all those injuries, coupled with Alex Colome’s 50-game PED suspension and mostly so-so seasons thus far from the starters in Triple-A Durham. There just aren’t many options.
Who can they count on other than David Price and Chris Archer? Since Cobb went to the DL, Rays’ starters have thrown five innings or fewer in eight of 10 games and have an ERA of 6.91, while the bullpen leads the major leagues with 441⁄3 innings pitched, including 132⁄3 innings in the last two games.
“Of course, it has put a bite on the boys out there,” Maddon said.
If this keeps up, those boys out there won’t be able to lift their arms, much less throw with them.
The Rays’ offense has picked up some of the slack, at least at home, as it did last weekend in a major way against the Yankees in the first two games, and in Tuesday’s opener against the Twins. The Rays added seven more runs Thursday. It would have been more had Desmond Jennings not hit a first-pitch popout with the bases loaded to end the eighth, though Jennings came back with a spectacular catch in center in the ninth.
On the road, the Rays’ bats have been a disaster, an average of 1.75 runs per game, worst in the majors. How many times can you win 1-0? The Rays did that twice on their first road trip of the season. Alex Cobb started the last of them.
Granted, the Rays began 2013, a playoff season, by going 12-14 in April. This team always finds a way. But I’d rather have shaky hitting than shaky starting pitching. The Rays have proven that works. All these missing arms are trouble.
“You can’t worry about that,” Maddon said. “You can’t cry about that. You’ve got to get the best out of the people you have.”
What if this is their best?