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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Rays Beat: Despite rough patch, the optimism remains

Grant Balfour. The clubhouse was nearly empty when Ben Zobrist came upon the closer who didn’t close Friday’s game against the White Sox.

The two talked briefly. A quick hug from Zobrist. A few pats on the back. And some parting words from Zobrist:

“We’ll get ’em tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. At this point of the season, there are plenty of tomorrows, and that’s one reason why there is little cause for concern from within the Rays’ clubhouse.

Outside? Different story.

Inside, while no one is happy about the recent injuries to starting pitchers Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, no one is ready to turn their backs on the promise that surrounded this team at the beginning of the month.

“It’s so early in the season, we got such a good team that we can’t start panicking just because we haven’t played as well, and we have some rough losses,” Zobrist said. “I think everybody is fine. Everybody is going to be fine.”

Friday night’s loss was tough. The Rays, despite having runners on base nearly the entire game, finally broke through in the ninth on a two-run homer by Evan Longoria and handed a two-run lead to Balfour, and Balfour gave it away. He walked three and allowed a game-ending grand slam to Jose Abreu.

“We just got to forget it quickly,” Zobrist said.

Saturday was a new day, and it provided another start for Cesar Ramos, one of the three pitchers who competed for the final spot in the rotation but now comprise 60 percent of the rotation.

The Rays pride themselves on depth among the starting pitching, but losing two starters during the first road trip of the season, not to mention losing Jeremy Hellickson late in the offseason for at least the first two months, will test the depth of any organization. It doesn’t help that Alex Colome can’t lend a hand while serving a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test and that none of the arms at Triple-A Durham seem ready to answer the call.

Ramos, Erik Bedard and Jake Odorizzi to this point have not closed the gap from the front-line starters to the fifth spot in the rotation.

It’s almost as if David Price and Chris Archer have to win for the Rays to avoid prolonged losing streaks, which can sink the season even at this early stage.

To that, Price said, “We have to keep working. Keep pitching. To sit here and sulk about it isn’t going to make it better. It’s going to make it a lot worse.

“We still got guys in here capable of throwing the ball extremely well. All our starters, one through five, can definitely give us a chance to win every fifth day, and that’s all you can ask for. Just step up and do it.”

Rays manager Joe Maddon is not a fan of the phrase “step it up,” because it means you could have used more effort in the past. But he does believe Ramos, Bedard and Odorizzi can do it.

And he believes his team can survive the injury and the rough start, because he wouldn’t be Joe Maddon if he didn’t. Adversity never bothers Maddon, and that’s why his players rally around each other.

“I think it’s my minor-league background. I think it’s how I grew up, but a lot of times when you’re working and managing in the minor leagues, you may not have the best team out there on a nightly basis, but you still believe you’re going to win somehow,” Maddon said. “You got to figure out a way to win somehow. Whether it’s lineup composition, make sure you use your bullpen properly or inspiring or talking to your players in a way that gets them ready.

“There’s a whole bunch of different ways to win on a nightly basis, so for me, I don’t want us utilizing any excuses. The only thing I’ll concede is this game could have been called ‘pitching’ as opposed to ‘baseball,’ and right now we’re not getting the pitching that we normally get, and that’s not been the big part of our success, that’s been the main part of our success. We need to get the group that’s out there now pitching more to their capabilities than they have been to this point.”

Price said that’s possible.

“If we can just pull it together as a starting rotation, all we need is two or three guys to get hot, get a couple of good starts in a row and everyone feeds off of that,” he said. “If we get that momentum in the right direction, that changes things.”

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