ST. PETERSBURG Desmond Jennings ended a wild night at Tropicana Field by doing exactly what Joe Maddon wanted Jennings to do when he dropped his leadoff hitter to the seventh spot in the order – have a productive at-bat. Jennings had a few of those Tuesday, the last of which produced an opposite field single that scored Kelly Johnson with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Tampa Bay Rays a 7-6 victory against the Miami Marlins in front of 13,876. ?That?s just outstanding to see that,? Maddon said. ?Understanding what the pitcher?s going to do and just going with it. Just a beautiful piece of hitting.? The win was the third straight for the Rays, who are now three games above .500. They also improved to 7-1 in interleague play this season.
The Rays and Marlins meet Wednesday night in Miami for a quick two-game series that begins an eight-game road trip with stops in Cleveland and Detroit. Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his second win of the season. The bottom of the Rays order – Jennings, Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar – combined to go 8-for-11 with four runs and five RBI. ?The bottom three, those guys were fabulous, and it was fun to watch,? Maddon said. Add No. 6 hitter Luke Scott to that mix and the last four batters in the lineup were a combined 11-for-17 with four doubles and five RBI. But ? Jeremy Hellickson had a poor outing, and a short one, too. And that was not what the Rays bullpen needed after Jake Odorizzi failed to finish five innings Monday. The bullpen picked up 8 2/3 innings in the two games. As a result, Maddon had to call on Joel Peralta for the fourth consecutive game. He?s now pitched in six of the Rays last seven games. His 28 appearances this season are tops in the American League. Maddon had Kyle Farnsworth warming several times but didn?t use him. He also had Jake McGee warming in the bottom of the ninth in case the game went into extra innings. The casualty was Odorizzi, who was optioned back to Triple A Durham. The Rays will call up a pitcher Wedneday to add a fresh arm to the bullpen. They will replace Odorizzi?s spot in the rotation Saturday in Cleveland, which would have been his scheduled day to pitch. ?Part of the decision is based on usage of the bullpen right now,? Maddon said. ?We have to make sure that we?re covered in the bullpen so nobody gets hurt, and we can disperse the work properly. There?s been a lot of craziness among the bullpen, so we need to square that up a little bit, too.? Hellickson put the Rays in a 4-0 hole before they came to bat in the bottom of the third inning. The Marlins got a run in the second inning when Marcell Ozuna doubled to start the inning and scored on a one-out single by Justin Ruggiano. They made it 4-0 an inning later with a two-run rally off Hellickson that featured a pair of triples. Placido Polanco singled and scored on a triple by former Rays prospect Derek Dietrich. A walk to Ozuna was followed by a two-run triple by former Palm Harbor East Lake standout Chris Coghlan. ?Not crispy at all. There?s more in there. Disjointed. Not sharp with anything,? Maddon said. Hellickson who pitched into the eighth inning in his two previous starts, including an eight-inning outing in his last start before Tuesday, made it to the sixth inning. He didn?t go much further, leaving with one out and the Rays down 5-3. Maddon said Hellickson didn?t have command of any of his pitches. ?Nothing was really normal for him,? Maddon said. Hellickson allowed five runs on seven hits, and some of those hits were long – a pair of triples and a home run. But, it takes a lot to knock the Rays offense out of games these days and a 4-0 deficit didn?t prove to be much of a problem. ?As a team we never quite,? Jennings said. ?We always fight to end and see what happens.? And that?s what they did. The Rays answered with two runs in the bottom of the third and could have scored more with better hitting with runners in scoring position. Lobaton legged out an infield single up the middle. Escobar followed with an infield single between shortstop and third base. Ben Zobrist singled to load the bases. Matt Joyce scored Lobaton with a sacrifice fly. Johnson, the hottest hitter on the Rays, doubled home Escobar. But, with runners at second and third and one out, the rally died when Longoria struck out and James Loney lined out to left field. The Rays added another run in the fourth inning to make it a 4-3 game when Desmond Jennings doubled and scored on a double by Escobar. But Hellickson, who quieted the Marlins offense with a pair of scoreless innings, allowed a leadoff homer to Coghlan in the sixth and was pulled after getting Ruggiano to bounce out to Longoria. The Rays tied it at 5-5 in the sixth when Lobaton ripped a double to right field scoring Luke Scott, who doubled, and Jennings, who walked. Jamie Wright replaced Hellickson in the sixth and got the game to eighth inning by retiring five of the six batters he faced. Peralta came on for the eighth and allowed a leadoff single to Ozuna, and Ozuna eventually scored on a two-out single by Greg Dobbs. The shootout continued in the bottom of the eighth when Scott and Jennings each reached on one-out singles. Sean Rodriguez, batting for Lobaton, struck out. Escobar followed with a single that scored Scott. The much maligned Rodney entered in the ninth and needed 15 pitches to retire the Marlins in order. Johnson and Longoria opened the bottom of the ninth with singles. Loney and Scott both flied out to left field. That left the inning up to Jennings, and Jennings, who was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI, delivered with an RBI single to right field off former Ray Chad Qualls. Jennings said he was looking for something out and away since Qualls throws a hard sinker. ?I felt like I had good at-bats all night,? Jennings. ?I felt good. I didn?t panic or anything like. I felt good.? Maddon said he?s not ready to return Jennings to the top of the order yet. Jennings said he?s fine with hitting seventh. ?I remember Joe did that last year toward the middle of the season,? Jennings said. ?It always seems to work.? email@example.com (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO