Rays Lose to Marlins 5-3, J.P. Howell Makes Season Debut

The Rays and Marlins kick off their yearly interleague series tonight, with Andy Sonnanstine facing Anibal Sanchez.

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Rays Lose to Marlins 5-3, J.P. Howell Makes Season Debut

Last night was another frustrating game for the Rays. They had chances to score, both early and late in the game, yet couldn’t quite capitalize on them enough to squeak out the win.

It’s so tempting to want to blame the loss on Andy Sonnanstine, but it’s not like he pitched all that bad. Sonny let up a run on a double and then two ground outs in the first inning, and then he allowed two looong homeruns in the fourth inning, but otherwise he was pretty solid. He got through five innings without walking anyone, only allowed seven hits, and he even struck out a batter to boot. He wasn’t dominating and he wasn’t necessarily fun to watch in action, but located his pitches well on the outside corner (against righties, at least) and he pitched a respectable start. I would still rather see someone out there instead of him, but he wasn’t half bad last night.

In the end, the loss came down to two things: the bullpen let up two runs late in the game, and the Rays’ offense couldn’t quite get enough going. Matt Joyce had two triples on the evening, driving in two of the Rays’ runs and scoring the third, but the rest of the offense was basically shut down by Anibal Sanchez. Casey Kotchman managed two singles against him, but he was the only player besides Joyce to get two hits on the night; Sanchez made short work of the rest of the lineup and cruised through a large portion of the game. Sanchez is a good pitcher and I expected the Rays to have trouble hitting him, though, so it was nice to see him leave the game with the game tied up at three.

Game Notes:

- After being activated from the DL yesterday afternoon, J.P. Howell made his season debut in last night’s game. He only pitched one inning, but he looked real good out there. His delivery was fluid and not as violent as it used to be (as in, he isn’t falling off the mound after every pitch anymore), and his velocity was up around 86 MPH. His command seemed a bit shaky, but what can you expect in his first time back? He worked a scoreless inning and struck out a batter, which is about as good an entry as you could hope for.

- Joel Peralta let up the two winning runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the manner in which they scored was frustrating, to say the least. Peralta allowed a single to Hanley Ramirez and then a double to Logan Morrison, and then Gaby Sanchez flew out to Matt Joyce and allowed both Ramirez and Morrison to advance. Joyce’s throw to home was decent, but it simply wasn’t quite on line – he could have possibly set himself under the ball a bit better.

And then Mike Stanton hit a pop up to short right field and Casey Kotchman made an awkward, turned around catch, preventing him from making a solid throw to home. I’ve never seen so short a sacrifice fly before; in the end it didn’t matter since the Marlins only needed one run to win, but it still made me want to bang my head against the wall.

- The Rays better come out strong today, as I’m not exactly psyched by our chances on Sunday against Josh Johnson. David Price vs. Javier Vazquez – considering Vazquez has essentially been a batting practice pitcher this year, here’s hoping the Rays’ offense can do some damage.

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Rays Vs. Marlins: Interleague Play Kicks Off

Ah, Interleague Play. That weird time of the season where we get to see awkward situation after awkward situation: AL pitchers attempting to bat, NL teams slotting bench players in at DH, and contrived "rivalries" created by major league baseball in order to boost their ratings. If you'd like to see balanced schedules in baseball, this weekend is enough to make you pull your hair out. In the name of supposed rivalries, this weekend's schedule is the same as it is almost every year: the Rays face the Marlins, the Yankees face the Mets, and the Red Sox face the Cubs. I'm sure the Rays are quite happy that they have to face the team with the third best record in the National League right now, while the Yanks and Red Sox get to face two teams that are each currently below .500.

Starting today for the Rays is Andy Sonnanstine (3.92 ERA, 5.75 FIP), who is making his third start filling in for the injured Jeff Niemann. Sonnanstine lasted five innings during his previous start and while he allowed four runs, he also flashed some traces of his former self, walking no batters and working the corners of the plate well. While the Rays would likely be better served recalling one of their prospects from Triple-A, like Alex Cobb, the Rays seem to prefer to go with Sonnanstine while allowing their prospects the proper time to develop.

Facing Sonnastine and the Rays is Anibal Sanchez (2.90 ERA, 3.06 FIP), who has been nothing short of dominant so far this season. His strikeout rate is at a career high (over 9 K/9), and he's limiting walks and homeruns while inducing more groundballs than every before. He's going to be a difficult pitcher for the Rays to beat.

The Rays and Marlins kick off their weekend series tonight at 7:10 PM in Miami.

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