ST. PETERSBURG — It’s tough to make 13 losses at this point of the season sound good, but Rays manager Joe Maddon tried his best Saturday to rise to the defense of Roberto Hernandez.
Ground balls that found holes in the infield and a lack of support by the bats hurt Hernandez during the Rays’ 6-2 loss to the visiting Blue Jays in front of a concert-night crowd of 25,036 at Tropicana Field.
But there was a home run to Jose Bautista and another to Adam Lind, and Hernandez fell to 6-13 on the season while his ERA rose to 5.00.
“We’ve really not supported him well,” Maddon said. “If we had scored more runs, I would bet you’d be looking at 8-11 or something even closer with a little bit of support. Every time he pitches he gets us out. We don’t score for him.”
The Rays have scored 17 runs while Hernandez was on the mound during his 13 losses, so there is truth to what Maddon said.
But the 5.00 ERA? The staff-high 22 home runs?
As he has all season, Hernandez said afterward that he’s trying to keep the ball down, that everything is out of his control once he delivers the ball to home plate. As for the lack of runs? Also out of his control.
There is some truth to that, as well.
But on a team whose foundation is built on starting pitching, 6-13 with a 5.00 ERA does not look good.
Right now the only thing keeping Hernandez in the rotation is the soreness in Matt Moore’s left elbow.
Maddon said that illustrates the depth the Rays have in the rotation. There are some teams that wouldn’t mind having a pitcher like Hernandez in their rotation. He is an innings-eater, and he does tend to keep the Rays in the game.
And, there is the issue of lack of run support — 17 runs in the 13 losses can undermine a few things.
“There you go. Rock n’ roll,” Maddon said. “That’s very difficult to win games under those circumstances. So you look at the won/loss record, and it looks awful. But a little bit more run support, I’m certain that record would be better.”
All that means is Hernandez can’t afford to make many mistakes in key situations. Problem is, he makes those mistakes.
He allowed a two-out home run to Bautista in the first inning to open the scoring.
A leadoff home run by Lind in the sixth enabled the Jays to gain a little breathing room after the Rays had closed to within 3-2 with a pair of fourth-inning runs.
“He’s capable of making a better pitch right there, there’s no question,” Maddon said.
The Jays made it 3-0 with two more in the second inning. Both runs scored on ground balls. One was turned into an out by Evan Longoria. The other, hit by Brett Lawrie, got through the left side of the infield.
Maddon said those two moments hurt Hernandez, especially the two-out, RBI single by Lawrie.
“You know, that’s the beast,” Maddon said. “You hope it’s going to be on the ground and we just try to be in the right spots. Most of the time, we were. But it hurts sometimes, too.”
The Rays dropped to two games behind the division-leading Red Sox, who beat the Yankees earlier in the day.
While Hernandez’s fingerprints were on the loss, Maddon said Jays starter J.A. Happ deserved some credit. The left-hander returned to the Trop for the first time since May 7, when he was struck on the side of the head by a line drive from Desmond Jennings.
Happ retired the first nine batters he faced and allowed only two runs in 5 1/3 innings. He picked up his first win since April 12.
“I thought Happ was good,” Maddon said. “I thought he pitched real well. And I’ve got to congratulate him based on what happened to him previously, how difficult that may have been. He pitched well, and that was a big part of our problem.”
The line on Hernandez was 5 2/3 innings, seven hits, five runs, four earned, and two home runs.
“I know it doesn’t look good line-wise,” Maddon said, “but he did not throw the ball that badly.”