CHICAGO — The way the Rays play, it’s sometimes easy to take the little things for granted. They typically don’t beat themselves with defensive mistakes. They run the bases efficiently. It’s not as innovative as the opener or as eye-catching as using 61 different players, but their knack for generally playing crisp, clean baseball helped them produce the American League’s best record each of the past two years.
So it stands out when the Rays play a game like Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 defeat to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. They made critical errors in the field. They ran into outs on the bases in big moments. And they generally didn’t play their brand of baseball as they lost their fourth straight game and their fifth in six since a 3-0 start.
“Look, we’re 4-5 for a reason,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I think a lot of it is because we haven’t been as crisp on defense, we’ve been running into outs. That is a little uncharacteristic for this club. But we’re going to work hard to get it right. It’s early, but that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to play better. The guys know that.”
The Rays will enter Sunday’s series finale with a record below .500 for the first time since they fell to 14-15 last May 2. They’ll look to end their brief skid by eliminating the mistakes they made throughout Saturday’s game, including these three that swung the game.
1. A tough fourth inning at first base for Harold Ramírez, who has limited experience at the position but has been asked to play there more often in his first season with the Rays.
“We’re asking a lot of Harold. I’m asking a lot of Harold,” Cash said. “You’re going to have to take some lumps in there on the way.”
After starter Corey Kluber breezed through the tough White Sox lineup in order through three innings, Tim Anderson led off the fourth with a grounder to third baseman Yandy Díaz. His throw bounced just in front of Ramírez, who couldn’t scoop it to secure the out. Ramírez promptly whiffed on Kluber’s attempted pickoff throw, which skipped past him, allowing Anderson to take second before José Abreu launched a hanging curveball — essentially Kluber’s only poor pitch in five innings — out to left-center for a two-run homer.
Ramírez said the scoop would have been “a little bit more difficult,” but he took full responsibility for the errant pickoff throw.
“I really just missed that ball, so that’s my fault,” he said.
2. An uncharacteristic error by Taylor Walls, who made his first start of the season at shortstop on Saturday with Wander Franco getting a day off his feet as the Rays’ DH. Walls earned his reputation as an excellent defensive infielder coming up through Tampa Bay’s system, which made his sixth-inning gaffe that much more surprising.
“If there’s going to be ground balls in the infield, we’re going to want every one hit to Taylor Walls. He’s really, really sure-handed,” Cash said. “It just got away from him right there. I bet that he’ll make 99 more of those plays in a row just like that.”
After the Rays tied it at 2 in the sixth, Luis Robert bounced a grounder to Walls. The second-year shortstop admittedly “overplayed” it rather than letting it come to him, and the ball bounced off his glove rather than settling into his mitt. Robert reached safely, stole second and scored the go-ahead run on a single against the shift by Yasmani Grandal.
“If I get that ball 100 more times, I think I make the play 100 more times,” Walls said. “When it was hit, I just kind of was a little too aggressive coming to get it. It was a pretty routine hop. If I would have been a little more patient, then it would have been a routine play.”
3. Some questionable baserunning, most prominently in the ninth inning. It’s worth noting that Díaz was thrown out at the plate in the sixth, but Cash absolved him of any wrongdoing by noting the perfect ricochet third baseman Josh Harrison played on an errant throw, setting up Harrison for the easy throw home.
In the ninth, though, the Rays thwarted a potential rally with an out on the bases. Ramírez led off the inning with a single against closer Liam Hendriks, and pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier advanced on a wild pitch. Díaz hit a bouncer back to Hendriks and Kiermaier took off on contact, but Hendriks had plenty of time to make the throw to Harrison for the out at third base.
Tampa Bay still made it interesting, loading the bases on Brett Phillips’ single and an intentional walk to Ji-Man Choi after Phillips stole second and Choi got ahead, 3-1. But Walls struck out on a 2-2 slider, which made the baserunning blunder loom that much larger.
“Not ideal. We’ve got to find ways to make better decisions,” Cash said. “Not just KK. We’ve had a lot lately, for this early in the season, that you can go back and look at and kind of scratch your head [and ask], ‘What just happened right there?’”
Rays acquire Guerra from Padres
The Rays acquired right-hander Javy Guerra, who was designated for assignment by the Padres on Tuesday, for cash considerations. Guerra will join the 28-man roster in the coming days, and Tampa Bay will have to make a corresponding move when he arrives. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rays transferred top prospect Shane Baz to the 60-day injured list.
Guerra, 26, debuted as a big-time shortstop prospect for the Padres in May 2018 but struggled to hit and moved to the mound during Spring Training in 2019. He throws a triple-digit fastball, but he has put together an 8.46 ERA over 27 appearances in the Majors.