Matt Joyce Leads Rays Against Verlander, But Bullpen Loses Them The Game

Going into this game, I’ll admit it, I didn’t have high expectations for the Rays’ offense. Justin Verlander has thrown a no-hitter this year and been one of the best pitchers in the majors for the past few seasons, and the Rays’ offense has barely been able to top three runs over the course of the past week. They could barely scrounge up six hits yesterday against Phil Coke and Charlie Furbush, so it was a very, very pleasant surprise to see the Rays knock around Verlander for six runs in six innings.

That’s right — six runs against Verlander. Who woulda thunk it? When Matt Joyce cranked his homerun to right field in the fourth inning to put the Rays ahead 3-1, I had one of those, “Ahh, this is why I love baseball” moments. Truly anything can happen on any given day. But by the time the end of the game rolled around, though, I wasn’t feeling quite so at peace with the world. After gaining the lead in the fourth, the Rays handed back the lead to the Tigers twice, losing on a two-run homerun from Mike Avila in the eighth inning.

To make things even worse, the Rays could have won this game; they allowed a couple cheap runs. For example, in the bottom of the second inning, B.J. Upton dropped an easy line drive that was coming right at him, which would have been the final out of the inning. Instead, the Tigers scored a run on the play and Davis had to throw an extra 10 pitches to get out of the inning. And later in the game, Miguel Cabrera fell behind in the count 1-2 and watched a beautiful fastball go by right over the plate. The pitch was called a ball, though, and a few pitches later Cabrera turned on a hard inside fastball and hit a three run homerun out to left field. Talk about frustrating.

Oh, and the game-losing homerun that Cesar Ramos allowed to Mike Avila? It was the first extra base hit off Ramos by a left-handed batter in the majors. Today just really wasn’t the Rays’ day.

Game Notes:

- Matt Joyce was the star of the show. He mashed a homerun off Verlander in the fourth inning, hitting a hanging changeup into the right field seats. That was his eighth homerun of the year, tying him for the team lead with Ben Zobrist. Joyce had three hits on the evening, and one of them came against a left-handed pitcher late in the game.

There was a brief scare in the sixth inning when Matt Joyce got hit in the back of the arm with the ball while trying to score, but thankfully that injury was far milder than it initially looked. Joyce banged himself around all game, though: he also made a few running catches in the outfield, and he hit the wall a bit hard on one of them. He didn’t seem any worse off at all, but I couldn’t help but cringe whenever I saw Joyce even slightly injured. Right now, the Rays desperately need his bat in the lineup.

- Despite his final line (6 IP, 4 ER), there were some encouraging signs from Wade Davis today. His overall velocity was better today, averaging 91 MPH and hitting 94 MPH on occasion; while I’d still like to see Davis throw harder more consistently during a start, Hickey had talked with Davis about cutting loose, so it was nice to see a step in the right direction. Davis primarily worked inside to right-handed hitters, busting them in on the hands with his fastballs, and he induced a lot of weak contact. He still didn’t get many swinging strikes or strikeouts (5 whiffs, 4 strikeouts), but he still had good command even with the slightly increased velocity (high strike percentage, only two walks).

Overall, I’m encouraged by this start; Davis was way more fun to watch last night than he has been in a while. His curveball – AKA, his old knockout pitch – was very successful whenever he used it, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’re moving in the right direction with Davis.

- Sean Rodriguez had a great piece of hitting against Verlander in the top of the third. He got an outside fastball and ripped a line drive double to right field. When you consider that Verlander is about as difficult a righty as you can face, that’s great to see.

But that’s not all. Rodriguez also hit another double off Verlander, rapping a hard-hit groundball down into the left field corner in the sixth inning. Can we please get S-Rod some consistent playing time?

- Oh, and Rodriguez definitely has the arm for shortstop. He made some impressive throws from deep in the hole at shortstop today, gunning out the Tigers every time. I still don’t feel comfortable enough to comment on his range at short, but his arm certainly isn’t a concern.

- The Rays have now lost eight of their last 12 games, and as the Yanks and Red Sox won last night, they’re now in third place. C’mon Sonny – we’re counting on you today.

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