Who might emerge as the Rays’ stopper?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Despite the trajectory of major league baseball, with the dynamics of analytics and the changing use of players, there remains vestiges of the game that resist change.

One aspect might include the nature of the pitching staff. Each team sports the “top of the rotation” and those are considered the top three starters. At any time, one could be called up to halt a challenging period. This could be a losing streak, poor outings from the bullpen, and other maladies which could beset a team.

Those with competitive starters at the top of the rotation could be considered contributors beyond the box score. If a challenging period affects a team, a particular starter could be called upon to curb any protracted period.

In the case of several teams, these might include Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and George Kirby at Seattle, Tarik Skubac, Casey Mize and Jac Flaherty at Detroit and Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez of the Phillies.

As the season progresses, others could likely step forward and gain the confidence of their manager and teammates.

For the Tampa Bay Rays, the trio of Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, and Zack Littell represent such a force. Regarding at the top of the Tampa rotation, each has the capability to “stop the bleeding,” and a consequence that manager Kevon Cash could command.

“I think the term ‘stopper’ is fair,” Cash said before Wednesday night’s game with the Angels in Tropicana Field. “Good starting pitching will lead to many wins, I think we have a pretty good group that, on any given night, we can find a guy that quiet an offense. We have seen that now in back-to-night, for the most part, (in the Angels series) in Civale and Eflin. Both pitched well and gave us a chance to win. Starting pitching rules baseball.’

On the diamond … With a 5-4 defeat to the Angels on Wednesday night before 10,844, the Rays’ season mark dropped to one game above .500 at 10-9. At times, the bullpen has not responded to save situations, and top hitters, such as Yandy Diaz (who led the American League in batting average) last season and Randy Arozarena continue to struggle.

After a 1-for-4 effort Wednesday night, Arozarena’s batting average increased slightly to .174. He began the night with a .169 average.

Reliable closer Pete Fairbanks entered in the ninth on Wednesday night with a one-run lead but surrendered two and took the loss. Struggling through a 28-pitch inning in the ninth, the veteran closer allowed a single to right-center off the bat of Taylor Ward with two out. That drove in the winning run and sent Fairbanks into a rage.

“Right now, I’m not throwing two-strike pitches and getting 2-0 counts,” he said. “I’m just not doing what I’m good at and it’s just compounded. Right now, I generally suck and it’s all-encompassing. We’ll try and rectify that, and I’m pretty upset about it.”

For his part, Cash looks a very competitive club walking the precipice. Certainly, the talent remains to field a very competitive team. After all, Cash led this franchise to the post-season in the past five seasons and expectations continue to be high.

“This group is too good, too talented to stay at this inconsistent pace,” Cash said after Wednesday’s loss. “We really believe in this group and for good reason. They have a track record of being successful and it’s not happening right now.”

Series finale … the set with the Angels concludes with a Thursday afternoon game. The Rays send right-hander Ryan Pepiot (1-2, 5.40 ERA) to the mound and he’ll be opposed by right-hander Griffin Channing (0-2, 9.88 ERA). Then, it’s off to New York and three with the Yankees. After this short trip, the Rays return home for three with Detroit.

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