January 29, 2023

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All hands on deck as Rays clobber Tigers

4 min read

ST. PETERSBURG — Sitting in the home dugout at Tropicana Field on Tuesday afternoon, manager Kevin Cash explained how he thought the Rays could work their way out of the “team rut” they’d been in for more than a week. It wouldn’t be incumbent on any one player to carry the lineup, even after they lost hot-hitting outfielder Manuel Margot and slugging second baseman Brandon Lowe to the injured list on consecutive days. It would be a team effort.

“I think everybody’s got to kind of do their part a little bit, and that’s generally what it takes. It wouldn’t be fair to put it on one guy,” Cash said. “We’re fully capable of turning it around, and we could do it tonight. I hope they do.”

Just about everyone in the Rays lineup did their part to support another dominant start by left-hander Shane McClanahan in their 8-1 win over the Tigers. Seven players recorded a hit and four delivered two-RBI nights to produce the club’s highest-scoring performance since an 8-2 victory in Seattle on May 7, their highest-scoring home game since April 12 and just the kind of breakout night Tampa Bay’s bats needed.

“It shows that we’re still good,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said after a three-hit game. “No doubt about it, collectively as an offensive unit, we’ve been a little inconsistent to start the season. But I always have to reiterate: This game is really tough. … It’s a process. You just try to make the right adjustments to get better as the season goes along, and offensive outbursts like tonight have always been really good to this group over the years.”

Considering the Rays tied a season high with three homers and scored two more runs in one game than they had in their previous three combined, Tuesday qualified as an outburst.

Yandy Díaz and Harold Ramirez each had a pair of hits. Ji-Man Choi had his first two-RBI game since April 24. Kiermaier homered and drove in two runs, a performance mirrored by fellow outfielders Brett Phillips and Randy Arozarena. Phillips homered for the second time in as many nights and scorched a sacrifice fly, and Arozarena punctuated his second home run of the season with an emphatic toss of his bat in the eighth inning.

“It was really really good to see,” Cash said. “It felt like the whole lineup contributed one way or the other.”

The Rays had scored only 19 runs over their previous eight games, producing three runs or fewer six times during their lowest-scoring eight-game stretch since April 25-May 2, 2021. But there was hardly any sense of panic emanating from the Rays’ dugout prior to Tuesday’s game, of course. Just the opposite, in fact, as McClanahan said he made a prediction in the first inning: “The boys are going to come out hot today.”

Sure enough, the Rays scored in the first inning and didn’t look back from there as they won for the 10th time in their past 15 games.

“I’m glad I was right,” McClanahan said. “When an offense is clicking like that and everybody’s going, it’s a sight to see. It’s a lot of fun to be part of. I just had a feeling.”

When McClanahan takes the mound, even moderate run support is likely going to be enough. But generally, the Rays have been nearly impossible to beat when scoring more than three runs: Tuesday’s win improved Tampa Bay’s record to 16-1 when scoring at least four runs — and 14-0 when scoring five runs or more.

McClanahan only needed two to win on Tuesday as he cruised through seven innings for the second consecutive start and the third time in his past five outings. He needed only 27 pitches to retire the Tigers in order the first time through the lineup, and he allowed only a weak, shift-beating single in his first four innings. The only run he allowed came on his first pitch of the fifth, a fastball that Jeimer Candelario crushed out to left.

“He’s been really special for us,” Cash said of McClanahan, the first Rays pitcher to go at least seven innings while allowing one run or fewer in back-to-back outings since Charlie Morton in June 2019. “I don’t really know how to describe it other than that.”

Kiermaier had a few other descriptions in mind. Among them: “Best in the league,” “absolutely dominant,” “a top-three pitcher in the game” and “incredible.” Indeed, McClanahan’s stuff was as dominant as his final line would indicate, even if the lefty said he felt like it wasn’t his best.

McClanahan didn’t walk a batter. He displayed full control of his entire arsenal, using all three offspeed pitches while his fastball accounted for only 34 percent of his offerings, and made the Tigers swing and miss on 18 of his 90 pitches.

“He’s going to do this for years to come. He’s pitching with a lot of confidence right now — and he should be,” Kiermaier said, smiling. “That boy’s nasty, and I love playing behind him. He just puts on a show. Glad I don’t have to face him.”

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