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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Rays offense has been a no-show

BOSTON - It’s early yet, only nine games into the season. No reason to be alarmed, or even concerned. But, have you seen the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense lately?
Has anyone?
The Rays, who continue a 10-game road trip Friday with the first of four games against the Boston Red Sox, are at or near the bottom of the American League in nearly every offensive category.
The team batting average is .227, second-to-last in the American League. The Rays’ slugging percentage of .316 is last. They are last in total bases (89) and second-to-last in home runs (four). Only two AL teams began play Thursday with a lower on-base percentage than the Rays’ .302.
On Wednesday, the Rays snapped a three-game losing streak with a 2-0 win at Texas, with one run scoring on a fielder’s choice and the other on a sacrifice fly.
A little more than a week into the season is too small a sample to predict trends, but given the Rays’ offensive woes last season (a franchise-low .240 batting average), there are more than a few heads shaking among the Rays faithful.
“It’s such a small sample of games. It’s nothing that’s worrying me right now,” hitting coach Derek Shelton said before Wednesday’s win. “I think we’re going to be fine.”
Manager Joe Maddon echoed those words.
“There’s a lot of good at-bats. Things are just not falling for us yet,” Maddon said. “As long as we as a coaching staff indicate, demonstrate confidence in our players, things are going to come through.”
Ben Zobrist (.364) and Evan Longoria (.345) are the only two regulars hitting above .250. They have combined for 22 of the team’s 64 hits, or 34 percent.
Longoria has 10 hits this season and, incredibly, all of them are singles, though he would have had a double had he not been called out for running past Zobrist on the bases during the third game of the season. He is the only player in the major leagues with at least 10 hits without one being an extra-base hit. This is the deepest he’s gone into a season without a home run.
“I just think they’re not giving him pitches to hit for power with,” Maddon said. “I think that’s part of the issue. His swing is outstanding. He’s probably fouled back his pitch a couple of times.”
In an effort to help Longoria see more fastballs, Maddon moved him to third in the order Wednesday and dropped Zobrist to fourth against Texas lefty Derek Holland. Maddon said he plans to do that more often against lefties.
Regardless of which one bats third or fourth, the Rays lack production from fifth through ninth. Those last five spots are batting a combined .180. To be fair, Luke Scott, who was expected to be a factor in the lineup, is on the disabled list.
“I think there’s a lot more to be had out of five, six, seven, eight and nine, and we have to get it out of that particular group,” Maddon said, “and I think it’s in there.”
Shelton thinks some of the players are trying so hard to get off to a good start that they are pressing.
“I think a couple of guys need a cheap hit here or there,” Shelton said. “We’ve had some situations with runners on base, and instead of getting multiple runs we’re getting one run, or it’s two outs with runners on and we haven’t gotten a run. I think we’re a big hit away from breaking it open.”
Maddon pointed to several factors for the sluggish start:
Some of the new players like Yunel Escobar (.100 batting average), Kelly Johnson (.182) and James Loney (.217) are still getting used to the way Maddon uses his lineup.
While the Rays are striking out less and putting the ball in play more, they are not making hard contact, the kind of contact that shoots a ball through the infield or into the gaps. The harder the contact, the harder for the defense to make a play, Maddon said.
“We’re getting some ground balls in situations. We’re beating a lot of balls in the ground,” Maddon said. “I think sometimes that’s being too eager.”
The Rays are not expecting to put up offensive numbers like, say, the Detroit Tigers or even the Baltimore Orioles, but they are expecting the offense to take some of the pressure off the pitching staff.
“I think in general terms we have to come together as a group here, and we will,” Maddon said, “and as we’re doing that, guys are going to gain more confidence, and when they gain their confidence all of a sudden results will show up.”

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