ST. PETERSBURG — Ryan Thompson, normally a shutdown relief pitcher, goes after hitters with an aggressive sidewinding style. Shortly after the Rays were defeated, 5-1, by the Blue Jays on Saturday night at Tropicana Field, his postgame assessment was delivered just as succinctly.
“I just got beat today,’’ Thompson said.
Thompson, the Rays’ fifth pitcher, came into a 1-1 game to start the eighth inning. But he allowed two home runs — a leadoff shot by Teoscar Hernández to center field on a 1-2 offering, then a two-run blast to left by Danny Jansen on a first-pitch sinker — that ignited the Blue Jays’ four-run inning.
There were other culprits, of course.
Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. With two outs and no one on, he walked Jansen and Raimel Tapia, bringing up the top of the order. Yarbrough was at 80 pitches and not nearly as deep into the game as the Rays would have liked, but manager Kevin Cash went to the bullpen after utilizing five relievers one night earlier.
After Yandy Díaz’s leadoff homer in the first, the Rays’ offense managed nothing. Tampa Bay was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. The biggest missed opportunity was in the sixth, when Vidal Bruján bounced out to first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with runners on second and third.
Still, even with an overall uneven performance, the Rays were tied in the eighth inning.
Thompson, who had been unscored upon in 10 of his past 11 appearances since April 17, pinned the blame on himself.
“I’ve already rewatched every pitch I threw,’’ Thompson said. “I stand by the pitches I threw and I stand by the locations I threw them. … Some of the pitches I threw were out of the zone. The pitch to Teoscar that he hit out, it was the right pitch and the right location. He just beat me. The home run to Jansen, [it was] one of the worst sinkers I threw on the analytics, but as far as the location and the count [first pitch], I’ll throw that pitch all day. Jansen beat me there. The name of the game today was it wasn’t my day, and it was theirs.’’
Cash maintains that the Rays have one of baseball’s best bullpens. He said it was a combination of the ‘pen being a bit overtaxed and the Blue Jays’ dangerous lineup finally breaking out to snap their five-game losing streak.
“We know how capable those guys are of getting hot at the plate,’’ Cash said.
At the same time, the Rays’ offense is slumping a bit, having scored one run or none in three of the past six games, including a no-hitter at the hands of the Angels’ Reid Detmers on Tuesday. Cash said he wasn’t concerned, even though shortstop Wander Franco is 0-for-his-last 16, because there has been a flurry of hard-hit balls. But opportunities have been squandered, too.
“We’ve got to get the bats going,’’ Cash said. “We’ve got to find a way to get more efficient, pitching-wise. [Throwing 80] pitches through 3 2/3 is challenging. Strike-throwing just kind of eluded him [Yarbrough] there. We had a chance to get through the fourth inning clean and [have a] decision on whether to send him back out there [for the fifth]. But we walk the eight-nine guys, and that puts us in a little bit of a jam.’’
“I understand I’m normally able to eat some innings and give those [bullpen] guys a blow,’’ Yarbrough said. “The big thing here is everyone picks each other up.’’
The Rays mostly overcame their deficiencies until things imploded in the eighth. After Hernández’s homer, Santiago Espinal smacked a one-out single. Pinch-hitter Zack Collins bounced sharply to first baseman Harold Ramirez, who stepped on the bag, then threw wildly trying to get Espinal at second. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. followed with an RBI single off Thompson’s 3-2 slider, setting up Jansen for the finishing blow.
“There are always things to learn, and you don’t want to get too far away from what you do,’’ Thompson said. “You can have a bad outing like this, and you can overanalyze and it can send you spiraling. For me, it’s addressing those things I can learn.
“Getting ahead in the counts, keeping control of the count, throwing your stuff where you want, the right pitch selection, all those things which I think I did good. I think my pitches just weren’t very good, and I think they were better than me today.’’