The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a very disappointing homestand. Their problems, however, extend back much further than that.
A nine-game trip provides the struggling Rays with a chance to make up ground in the wild-card race, and they hope to start Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles in the opener of a three-game series.
Since it was tied for first place in the AL East on June 11, Tampa Bay (49-47) has gone 14-22 to fall well off the pace in the division. With two wild cards, a third straight trip to the postseason remains well within their grasp, but the Rays will need to find a way to generate more offense.
Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom of the league in runs (396) and batting average (.232) and those deficiencies were evident on a recent homestand. Despite facing two of the AL's worst pitching staffs in Boston and Cleveland as well as last-place Seattle, the Rays averaged 3.3 runs and hit .234 while losing six of 10."The offense has been challenged lately," manager Joe Maddon said. "We just have to figure out how to score more runs."
It was more of the same Sunday when Tampa Bay managed five hits in 2-1 loss to the Mariners. The Rays batted .183 with runners in scoring position on the homestand."It's a difficult moment because we really did not take advantage of some pretty good opportunities over the last couple days," Maddon said. "When you get that kind of pitching, you don't want to lose. So we have to figure out a way to get beyond that."
This trip continues with three games each against the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland - two of the four teams ahead of Tampa Bay in the wild-card standings.
"This road trip, we'll be playing teams that are right there with us, so this will be a big trip for us, and it starts Tuesday," said scheduled starter Jeremy Hellickson .
Another club in front of the Rays in the wild-card race is the Orioles (51-45), who had a season high-tying five-game win streak snapped with a 3-1 loss at Cleveland on Monday."I know our guys feel like there was a game there to be won, with the pitching we got," manager Buck Showalter said.
Excellent starting pitching keyed the run for Baltimore, which has received six straight quality starts for the first time since May 10-15, 2011. The starters are 5-1 with a 2.21 ERA in that span after going 1-5 with a 6.22 ERA in the previous six.
Wei-Yin Chen (8-5, 3.80 ERA) will try to extend that streak as he faces Tampa Bay for the second time in his rookie season. The left-hander ended a personal three-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory at Minnesota on Thursday, overcoming a shaky first inning to allow three runs and six hits in seven innings.
Chen struggled in a 5-0 loss at Tampa Bay on June 1, yielding five runs and a season-high four walks in 5 2-3 innings.
Hellickson (4-6, 3.55) has contributed to the Rays' struggles, going 0-6 with a 4.29 ERA in nine starts since beating Boston on May 16. He also hasn't received much support with his teammates scoring 3.22 runs per game during that stretch.
The right-hander left without a decision Wednesday against Cleveland, giving up three runs and five hits over six innings in his third straight quality start.
Hellickson is 4-2 with a 2.36 ERA lifetime against the Orioles but was a tough-luck 2-1 loser at Tropicana Field on June 2.
Adam Jones is 6 for 19 (.316) with a pair of homers off Hellickson.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|June 20, 2012||Matt Joyce||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|July 16, 2012||Robert Andino||15-Day DL||Left shoulder subluxation|
|July 16, 2012||Robert Andino||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder strain|
|July 14, 2012||Jason Hammel||15-Day DL||Arthroscopic surgery, right knee|
|July 02, 2012||Brian Roberts||15-Day DL||Torn muscle, right hip|
|June 28, 2012||Nick Johnson||60-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|June 27, 2012||Nick Johnson||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
BALTIMORE (AP) -- For the first time in six weeks, Jeremy Hellickson had a victory to savor.
The Tampa Bay right-hander took a three-hitter into the seventh inning to earn his first win in 10 starts, and the Rays defeated the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 on Tuesday night.
Hellickson (5-6) gave up one run and three hits in 6 1-3 innings, striking out four and walking none. He was 0-6 since beating Boston on May 16, the second-longest losing streak by a Tampa Bay pitcher since the start of the 2008 season.
Asked if he was relieved to put the skid behind him, Hellickson replied, "Yeah, I am. ... It feels really good. A good team win tonight."
Light-hitting Brooks Conrad homered and Jeff Keppinger had two hits and an RBI for the Rays, who were playing their first road game since the All-Star break. Tampa Bay made the most of six hits in bouncing back from two straight 2-1 defeats against Seattle.
"That was a big win for us tonight to get the road trip off on the right foot," said Conrad, whose two-run drive in the fifth inning put the Rays up 2-1.
After Hellickson left, Jake McGee struck out the only two batters he faced and Joel Peralta worked a perfect eighth. In the ninth, Fernando Rodney got three outs around two walks to complete the three-hitter and pick up his 28th save in 29 tries.
Adam Jones hit his 23rd homer for the Orioles, who have lost two straight following a five-game winning streak. Baltimore has allowed three runs or fewer in seven straight games.
In this one, however, the Orioles couldn't muster enough offense to back starter Wei-Yin Chen (8-6), who yielded three runs and four hits in 6 2-3 innings. The Taiwanese left-hander issued three walks, and two of those runners came around to score.
"He deserved a little bit better fate. Their guy was real good, too," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Three hits is going to be tough to win many games."
The credit goes to Hellickson, who kept Baltimore off balance by throwing his fastball for strikes and mixing in an effective changeup.
"Helley did good. Helley was more aggressive with the fastball in the strike zone," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he pitched a brighter game tonight. I liked it."
Sam Fuld , activated off the 60-day disabled list by Tampa Bay before the game, went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base in his season debut. He had been sidelined since undergoing wrist surgery on April 3.
Tampa Bay went up 2-1 in the fifth when Fuld walked and Conrad homered with two outs. Conrad, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, stepped to the plate with a .180 average and one homer in 50 at-bats.
"I hit a slider," Conrad said. "Shortened my swing up, ended up catching it out front and I got it pretty good."
The Rays added a run in the sixth. B.J. Upton drew a leadoff walk, reached third with one out and scored on a bloop single by Keppinger.
Both starting pitchers were in control early. Neither team got a runner past first base until the fourth inning, when Jones hit a 1-1 fastball over the wall in center field. It was his third home run in 21 career at-bats against Hellickson.
NOTES: After the game, Tampa Bay obtained INF Ryan Roberts from Arizona for Class AA infielder Tyler Bortnick. ... Tampa Bay took a 4-3 lead in the season series and improved to 124-123 all-time against Baltimore. ... Four of the team-high 18 homers allowed by Hellickson have been hit by the Orioles. ... Chen has given up eight home runs in his last seven starts after yielding only eight in his first 13 outings. ...... The Orioles fell to 34-16 in games decided by one or two runs. ... Rays LHP David Price will vie for his major league-leading 14th win on Wednesday night. Rookie Miguel Gonzalez (2-1) will start for Baltimore. ... Keppinger is batting .458 (27-for-59) against left-handers this season. ... The Orioles signed 25-year old Cuban outfielder Hentry Urrutia to a minor league contract. Urrutia, who played in the Cuban League from 2006-10, will be assigned to Double-A Bowie.