January 29, 2023

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Rays battle, but early hole is too big

4 min read
Yarbrough offers no excuses for struggles: 'It was a pretty terrible day'
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ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn’t go down easy Sunday afternoon. With their lineup scuffling over the past two weeks and White Sox ace Lucas Giolito on the mound, Isaac Paredes homered, Randy Arozarena ripped a run-scoring triple and Mike Zunino cleared the left-field fence for a two-run homer that made things interesting against a pitcher the Rays have never beaten.

But left-hander Ryan Yarbrough had dug a hole too deep to climb out of, and the Rays’ furious comeback effort fell short in a 6-5 loss at Tropicana Field. They’ve lost two in a row and six of their last 11, and they’ve been treading water for nearly a month with a 13-13 record in their last 26 games.

Asked to summarize Sunday’s series finale, Rays manager Kevin Cash began his answer with one word: “Frustrating.” That was certainly the feeling for Yarbrough, who allowed six runs on eight hits while recording only five outs.

“We basically lost that game because of me,” Yarbrough said. “When you give up six in less than two innings, you don’t really put yourself in a good position to win a ballgame. But the fact that we battled back … there’s a lot of fight in this team, and we fought it out to the end.”

After having his season debut delayed until May 3 due to a left groin injury, Yarbrough had been on a solid run over his past five outings. He recorded a 2.55 ERA while limiting opponents to a .610 OPS during that stretch, although the Rays lost all five of his appearances, and he was coming off a 6 2/3-inning start in Texas on Tuesday, his longest outing since last July 25.

But he lacked the same command on Sunday, and the White Sox were on everything he threw. They swung and missed on only two of his 68 pitches, and six of the 13 balls they put in play against him were hit over 99 mph. Of the 15 hitters he faced, 10 reached safely — eight on hits, including five doubles, and two by walks. By the time he walked off the mound, Yarbrough had seen his ERA jump from 4.00 to 5.65.

“Getting behind, getting in hitters’ counts, and then when I’m in the zone not locating where I want to, leaving things over the heart of the plate,” said Yarbrough, who snapped a streak of five straight appearances allowing three runs or fewer with the shortest start of his career. “Definitely a combination that doesn’t really bode well.”

The left-hander found trouble right from the start. Danny Mendick hit a leadoff single to center field, then Andrew Vaughn won an 11-pitch battle with a double to center. Yarbrough walked José Abreu with one out, then allowed a two-run double to Jake Burger.

Even balls the White Sox didn’t square up wound up hurting Yarbrough. With runners on second and third, Yasmani Grandal tried to check his swing on an 0-1 curveball outside and wound up punching it over the Rays’ drawn-in infield and into shallow right field for a two-run single. As reliever Ralph Garza Jr. began warming up, Yarbrough finally escaped a 37-pitch first inning.

“Yarbs just didn’t have the command that he needs to have to go out there and pitch like he’s capable of,” Cash said. “It felt like he was falling behind and then having to throw strikes that were catching a lot of the plate, and the White Sox, to their credit, they were ready for it.”

Things didn’t get any better for Yarbrough in the second. Josh Harrison led off the inning with a double to right and high-stepped his way to third base when Manuel Margot made a wild throw from right field. One batter later, Harrison scored on Vaughn’s second double. Luis Robert singled in Vaughn, Burger picked up his second double in as many innings, then Yarbrough’s outing finally came to an end when he walked Grandal.

“Obviously, it was a pretty terrible day. Nothing really went well,” he said. “Especially when you feel like you’ve been throwing pretty well lately, to have one of those is a nice little hit to the gut. But it’s a long season. You’ve got to go out and attack and kind of take these next couple of days to kind of get back in sync.”

Yarbrough’s abbreviated start came at a tough time for the Rays’ bullpen. But Shawn Armstrong (1 1/3 innings), Garza (3 2/3 innings), Jason Adam (1 1/3 innings) and Andrew Kittredge (one inning in his return from the 15-day IL) were left to pick up the slack. Garza’s career-long performance — combined with Monday’s off-day — should at least help reset Tampa Bay’s relief corps after a stretch of 13 games without a day off.

“The bullpen did a nice job,” Cash said. “Garza gave us every opportunity to get back into that ballgame, and if we were to tie it or take the lead, it would have been a lot because of his work that he provided. So appreciative of that.”

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