Andy Sonnanstine Implodes, Rays Walk 11 On Way To 5-4 Loss To Indians

Andy Sonnanstine was a shell of his former self Tuesday night, walking five batters in only 3.1 innings.

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Andy Sonnanstine Implodes, Rays Walk 11 On Way To 5-4 Loss To Indians

In what was possibly – no, definitely – the most painful game that I’ve watched this season, the Rays lost to the Indians Tuesday night 5-4. There are a lot of reasons why the Rays lost the game and plenty of reasons why they could have won, but it really comes down to this one thing: the Rays allowed way too many baserunners. Allowing 10 hits isn’t that big a deal, but 11 walks? By the time the game reached the ninth inning, I was ready to jump through my computer and shake some sense into the next person that walked a batter. Sadly, that would have been Farnsworth, and his walk lost the Rays the game.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself: this story begins with a shell of a pitcher called Andy Sonnanstine. Andy is a fun shell who keeps us entertained with his ping-pong skills, outfield wall art, and YouTube videos, and he used to be a viable major league pitcher. Back in 2008 he was a very solid starter for the Rays (4.38 ERA, 3.91 FIP), and we all figured he’d translate well to the bullpen. He’d likely gain a couple miles an hour on his fastball, and maybe he’d get a few more whiffs as a result. But no, Andy instead started walking more batters, striking out fewer hitters, and allowing more homeruns. Not a great combination, but he was still a decent mop-up man at least.

But now I barely recognize Sonnanstine on the mound. His impeccable control is gone, and he walked five batters last night in only 3.1 IP, throwing only 48% strikes. His velocity peaked near 87 MPH on occasion, but his fastball hovered around 85 MPH for the majority of the evening. He got hit hard, as Grady Sizemore crushed a long homerun off him in the first inning and other batters came dangerously close (most notably, Travis Hafner in the third inning). He threw his cutter over 70% of the time, which is utterly baffling as Sonny doesn’t have good enough stuff to survive by throwing any pitch 70% of the time – nonetheless his cutter. He was a shell of his former self, and though it makes me sad to say it, I’m beginning to think he may never regain his old form.

Despite allowing nine baserunners in a little over three innings, Sonny somehow managed to escape with only two runs allowed (both on long solo homeruns). The bullpen had mixed results after he left: Cesar Ramos escaped a jam in the fourth inning and cruised through the fifth inning, but then Brandon Gomes quickly loaded the bases in the sixth inning with a single and two walks. Juan Cruz entered the game and got out of the inning eventually, but not before he allowed two runs to score on a single and passed ball. Cruz also got somewhat lucky: the first out he recorded was on a hard comebacker to the mound that he hit with his glove in self-defense, which then bounced within reach so he could record an out at the plate.

Joel Peralta entered the game next, getting out of a two on, one out situation in the seventh inning and then cruising through the eighth inning. With an already depleted bullpen and a tied game, though, Maddon decided to run Peralta out there again to start the ninth. A walk, a single, and an intentional walk later and Kyle Farnsworth was entering the game to try and work a miracle. It looked for a second like he nearly would, as he recorded the first out of the inning when Brignac made an impressive stop on a groundball and got the runner at the plate, but Farnsworth ended up walking the next batter after getting up 0-2 in the count. Game, set, match.

I told you it was painful.

Game Notes:

- So I’m torn: while it appears the whole “the bullpen is overperforming” bit is true and having seven arms was a good thing last night, I still would have liked to have Brandon Guyer on the bench for that game. In the top of the seventh inning, the Rays were down by two runs, but Sean Rodriguez led off the inning with a double. The Indians then brought in their lefty specialist to face Dan Johnson, John Jaso, and Sam Fuld – a perfect situation to pinch hit. While Maddon did substitute Shoppach for Jaso (and Shop got a hit that drove in a run), he couldn’t do much else due to the current status of his bench. Sigh.

- Both Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria homered today. You know, I think I’m fine with those two hitting three and four for the remainder of the season…

- Sam Fuld went 0-5 and is now batting .238. Please Maddon, give him a day off or drop him down from the leadoff spot. He needs a break.

- The Rays are still alive, though, as David Price and James Shields will be starting for them over the next two days. Hopefully they’ll work deep into the game and allow our bullpen to rest up some; otherwise I bet we’ll be seeing our next glance at Rob Delaney sometime soon.

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Rays Vs. Indians: Game 1 Lineups Without Johnny Damon

The Rays' usual designated hitter, veteran Johnny Damon, will be starting tonight's game on the pine. Rays manager Joe Maddon has opted to give Dan Johnson a rare start at DH as Damon gets a regular day of rest. Johnson came into the season as the Rays' everyday first baseman, but has since slipped into a platoon role with Casey Kotchman.

Johnson, though he has struggled mightily this year, has the lowest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) among Rays players, likely meaning he has undergone a long and unpleasant spate of bad luck. Hopefully his fortunes can turn around tonight against one of the league's luckiest pitchers, Josh Tomlin.

The Rays starting lineup, per MLB.com:

Fuld, S, LF
Zobrist, B, 2B
Longoria, E, 3B
Joyce, M, RF
Upton, B, CF
Kotchman, C, 1B
Rodriguez, S, SS
Johnson, D, DH
Jaso, J, C

Players to watch:

  • Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce have been on serious hot streaks. Both have been displaying amazing power and patience over the last few weeks and should only improve with all-pro slugger Evan Longoria sandwiched between them.
  • For as unlucky as Dan Johnson has been, Casey Kotchman has been equally lucky. Though Kotchman has been a notable better hitter this year, possibly thanks to his recently improved vision, his BABIP is still about 100 points higher than his career norm. Hopefully Kotch's luck will cool off after the Rays finishing playing the hot Indians.
  • Sam Fuld has been on a cold streak of his own, but not of any fault of his own. Despite making solid contact, Fuld has a laughably unlucky .091 BABIP over the last 12 games. Rays fans can rest assured: The Legend has not gone away.
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Andy Sonnanstine Gets The Start As Rays Face First-Place Indians

I don't know which is more shocking: that the Rays have rebounded from their 1-8 start and are now 6 games above .500, or that the Cleveland Indians currently have the best record in the American League. A month ago, I certainly wouldn't have predicted either of those things to be true come the beginning of May, but here we are: the Rays are coming to Cleveland for the first series of the year between the two clubs, and both teams are well above .500. As much as advanced statistics can tell us so much about players and teams, baseball will always be full of surprises.

In today's game between the Rays and Indians, Andy Sonnanstine (2.19 ERA, 3.99 FIP) will be facing off against Josh Tomlin (2.43 ERA, 4.70 FIP). Sonnanstine has spent the entire year so far as the Rays' long reliever in the bullpen, but is getting a spot start as the Rays are still cobbling things together in the wake of Jeff Niemann's injury. It appears that instead of calling up one of their young arms in Triple-A for a few starts (like Alex Cobb), the Rays would prefer those pitchers to continue getting in time in the minors, considering that most of them are new to the Triple-A level. Sonnanstine isn't a dominant pitcher and likely won't blow the Indians away, but he's a solid innings eater and should provide the Rays with a good enough start to keep them in the game.

Josh Tomlin has seen time with the Indians as their number five starter, and he's done well so far this year. While his ERA is unsustinably low (thanks to a .157 BABIP and 90% strand rate), Tomlin does have impeccably good control and has only walked 1.7 batters per nine so far this season. As he's 26 years old, Tomlin has limited upside, but he's a decent back of the rotation starter if nothing else. He's a soft tosser, averaging 87 MPH with his fastball, so I'm somewhat intrigued to see which starter has more success today: Sonny or Tomlin.

Today's game starts at 7:05 PM. For more coverage of the Tampa Bay Rays, see SB Nation's blog DRaysBay.

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