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Rays stymie Astros 4-1 to even ALDS at two games apiece

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Starting Justin Verlander on three days’ rest didn’t work out well for the Astros in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays on Tuesday night. The veteran right-hander forked over three runs in the first inning and did not last through the fourth as the Rays went on to win 4-1, forcing a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.

The Rays went with a bullpen day — something they’re no strangers to doing — and it worked brilliantly. Diego Castillo “started,” striking out three in a row after allowing a leadoff single. In the bottom half of the first, Tommy Pham opened the scoring with a solo homer to left field. The Rays continued to threaten, as Ji-Man Choi drew a walk off of Verlander. Avisaíl García grounded a single to left field and, with two outs, Travis d'Arnaud hit a ground ball single of his own to left to plate Choi. Joey Wendle followed up with a line drive single to right field to send García home to make it 3-0.

Castillo got two more outs in the second inning before giving way to lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who scattered a pair of hits across two scoreless innings. The third inning was scoreless, in part, due to a picture-perfect relay from center fielder Kevin Kiermaier to shortstop Willy Adames to d’Arnaud at home to get José Altuve on a Yordan Álvarez double. In the bottom half of the fourth, Adames provided more insurance by slugging a leadoff solo homer to left-center field. Verlander later allowed a two-out walk which ended his night. All told, he surrendered four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

The Rays’ bullpen continued to dominate. Yarbrough gave way to Nick Anderson, who spun 2 1/3 scoreless innings on one hit with two strikeouts. Colin Poche worked a scoreless seventh. He remained in the game in the eighth, serving up a two-out solo homer to Robinson Chirinos, which finally put the Astros on the board at 4-1. Manager Kevin Cash called on closer Emilio Pagán for the final four outs of the game. Pagán got George Springer to fly out to end the eighth. The Astros did not go down without a fight, however. In the ninth, Altuve drew a one-out walk and Alex Bregman singled to left-center to put runners on the corners. Cash decided to bring in reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to face Álvarez. It was the right call, as Snell got him to swing at a slider in the dirt for strike three and the second out. Snell recorded the final out when Gurriel hit a sharp grounder up the middle but Wendle was positioned perfectly.

The Astros will host the Rays for all the marbles in Game 5 on Thursday night. Gerrit Cole versus Tyler Glasnow. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 PM ET.

Blue Jays sign Marc Rzepczynski to minor league deal

Marc Rzepczynski
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The Blue Jays announced on Monday the signing of lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. “Scrabble,” as he’s affectionately known, spent the first two and a half years of his career with the Blue Jays in 2009-11.

Rzepczynski, 34, hasn’t appeared in the majors since July 2018. He struggled across 44 2/3 innings with the Reno Aces, the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate, last year. He posted a 5.04 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 28 walks.

While lefty relievers are always high in demand, it seems likely that Rzepczynski will begin the regular season in the minors and serve as organizational depth for the Blue Jays.