ST. PETERSBURG – With three-fifths of their starting rotation on the disabled list, with their offense hobbling at an anemic pace, there was a disturbing question surrounding the Rays heading into Thursday night’s home-stand opener against the New York Yankees.
Could things get any worse?
The Rays answered quickly – and resoundingly.
The Yankees assaulted ace left-hander David Price with six extra-base hits in five innings, including back-to-back home runs, and registered a 10-2 victory against the sliding Rays before an announced crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field.
Meanwhile, Joe Maddon’s patchwork lineup, which included six starters batting .200 or below, barely created a sweat for Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia.
The low point: Trailing 4-0 in the second inning, with runners on first and second, nobody out, Rays first baseman Sean Rodriguez bounced into a 5-4-3 triple play.
For the record, it went Solarte-to-Roberts-to-Sizemore.
Yankees third baseman Yangervis Solarte, signed as a minor-league free agent in January, caught it on the first bounce and stepped on third. He shoveled it to second baseman Brian Roberts, who made another force play and rifled it on the bounce. But Scott Sizemore, playing his initial game at first base (ever!), came up with the scoop, completing the Ray-deflating triple play.
The Rays, who have lost four straight, fell behind 4-0 when Price was rocked for a double, triple and triple – all rocket shots – in the second inning.
There seemed to be some fight when Evan Longoria led off the second by hustling into a double on his right-center field gapper, then Wil Myers drew a walk. Rodriguez’s triple play quickly quelled that threat – and ended the inning – leaving the Rays to fight an uphill battle.
It got out of hand in the fifth, when Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann slammed back-to-back homers off Price, who promptly surrendered a double to Solarte.
Price, working on a one-year, $14-million contract, entered the game at 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA. With pitchers Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson likely out until June – and Matt Moore done for the season – Price’s importance to the Rays can’t be understated.
Maddon was reticent to say he needed Price to “step up,’’ saying he hated the term because it suggested something was previously being held back.
“I just want him to bring the value he brings daily,’’ Maddon said before the game. “Maybe I’ve been around sports psycho-babble too long, but I can’t work from the thought process of asking more, ‘I want you to try harder, I want you to win more games, get more hits’ … I can’t go there.
“It’s about guys taking the place of guys and (doing) what we think they can do also. … I’m not looking to get more out of David.’’
Clearly, though, Maddon needs more out of his offense.
In the past 10 games, the Rays have managed just 16 runs. Thursday night, the Rays scored on a passed ball and got a solo shot from Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, Myers went 0-for-2, dropping his batting average to .192 in what he described as “my worst start ever.’’
“It’s not that they’re pitching me really well, I’m just getting myself out,’’ Myers said before the game. “We’re just looking for one guy to break out. Once that happens, everyone will start hitting.’’
Until then, the Rays’ offensive shortcomings will continue as a daily subject. Already, it has gotten tiresome.
“It’s tough,’’ Longoria said before the game. “The goal is not to (do more and apply more internal pressure). Maybe we have (done that) to a certain extent right now. But I don’t think that moving forward it will be an issue.’’
Still, where are the hits? Where are the runs?
“We’ve had this conversation a thousand times, standing in the same spot (in the clubhouse) and the answer is always the same,’’ Longoria said. “It will turn around. … We’ve got plenty of time left. Now is not the time to really start hanging our heads.’’