Despite slow start, Cash remains confident

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has danced with this partner before. He knows the feeling, the experience, and the sentiment.

Over his 10-year tenure as skipper of this franchise, he’s experienced the good times and challenging periods. Now, his Rays are amid an uncharacteristic period. That would include playing sub-.500 baseball through the opening month of the season.

Coming into the final game of a shortened home stand Wednesday against Detroit, the Rays compiled a 12-13 mark and sat in the basement of the American League East division.

Atypical for a team that is perennially one of the top clubs in the game, there appears little concern. Before Wednesday night’s game, Cash told reporters such a struggle is not uncommon, and his team has too much talent to wallow. Yet, the Rays continue to struggle with an inconsistent bullpen, key hitters batting near or under .200, and a plague of injuries.

“We just hung on,” is the way Cash described the opening month. “I’m confident we will get going. Would like to get off to a better start and all facets of our team are not clicking right now. I feel we’re competing well. Just competing alone does not necessarily translate into wins. It’s been a little bit of a struggle for us.”

A significant reason is the offense.

Coming their 16th game of the season (with that record of 12-13), the Rays’ team batting average was .240. That was above the league average of .234. At the same time, the team batting average for nine AL clubs was below the Rays’ average.

Yet, pitching is another story.

For their opening 15 games, the Rays’ combined ERA of 4.37 and among the highest in the league. Only the Angles (4.38), the Astros (5.26) and the White Sox (5.14) had a higher team ERA.

One of Cash’s standards for success is quality starting pitching. Four of the principal starters sport an ERA of under 4 runs per nine innings. The culprit here is the bullpen.

Only the ERAs of Garrett Clevinger (at 2.79), Jason Adam (1.80), and Shaw Armstrong (4,09) remain under five runs per nine innings. Numbers here include Colin Porche (6.75), Phil Maton (6.97), Kevin Kelly (5.40), Chris Devenski (6.92).

“Yes, consistency is important, but you have to be consistently good,” Cash added. “I would like to start to see some things we are capable at a higher rate. Right now, we need to score six, seven runs in the first three innings of a game to let the pitchers have some breathing room. That’s easier said than done.”

If Cash is looking for a decisive moment, that may be an accumulative set of days. After the Detroit series, the Rays embark on a 12-game stretch in which they engage the Chicago White Sox in six of those contents.  

Starting the season by dropping 20 of their first 23 games, the Sox joined the 2022 Cincinnati Reds, the 2003 Detroit Tigers, the 1936 St. Louis Browns, and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders as teams with the worst start to a season. The Baltimore Orioles opened the 1988 season by dropping 22 of their opening 23 games.

The get-away game …  the Rays gained a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over Detroit before 13,754 in Tropicana Field Wednesday night and avoided being swept for the first time this season. The victory was number 751 for manager Kevin Cash and he is now three wins behind Joe Maddon (754) as the Rays’ all-time wins leader

Down 5-4 in the sixth, an RBI single from catcher Ben Rortvedt tied the game, and then second baseman Curtis Mead drilled a two-run homer just inside the left field foul pole. That was his first of the season and second in his major league career.

“I was looking for something out over the plate,” said the native out of Adelaide, Australia. “It happened to come eight or nine pitches in and that was lucky. When I saw the ball get out of here, it was a bunch of relief. I didn’t hit the ball very good, and it was probably about 50-50. I knew it was going to go, and it was the perfect angle.”

The Rays’ 11-hit attack was led by Yandy Diaz, Isaac Parades, and Rortvedt, all with a 2-for-4 night.  Garrett Cleavinger picked up his second save of the season, and lowered his team-leading ERA to 2.53.               

Next … the Rays now open a six-game trip against the White Sox in Chicago for three and three with the Brewers in Milwaukee. Zach Eflin (1-2, 3.68 ERA) will likely open the trip. The Rays return to Tropicana Field on May 3 to face the New York Mets. That’s the opening of a nine-game home stand with both New York teams, the Mets and Yankees, and the White Sox in at Tropicana Field.

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