Overhauled Rays staff missing October magic in ALDS

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — Creative as they come at deploying their arms, the Tampa Bay Rays overhauled the pitching staff that bolstered an AL pennant winner in 2020 with their signature out-of-the-box approach.

Constructed with similar boldness and imagination to last year’s shut-down crew, this staff hasn’t created quite the same October magic.

Manager Kevin Cash’s fearlessness in deploying a dizzying array of relivers has let them down in Games 2 and 3 of their AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. Tasked with covering 11 innings Sunday, eight relievers bent repeatedly before finally breaking in the 13th, when Luis Patino allowed Christian Vazquez‘s walk-off two-run homer in a 6-4 defeat to fall in a 2-1 series hole.

The club that pioneered the use of the opener relied Sunday on 36-year-old David Robertson, who before this season hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2019. There was Patino, acquired when they traded away Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, along with Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen, picked up in a deal that shipped out popular shortstop Willy Adames.

After being handed an early 2-0 lead, starter Rasmussen was chased after just two-plus innings, giving up six hits and three runs, including a home run.

The eight relievers who followed allowed nine hits and three walks but just a single run, giving Tampa Bay’s offense the chance to tie it and force extras. In all that time, first-year Rays pitcher Matt Wisler was the only pitcher who didn’t allow a baserunner, getting four straight outs spanning the seventh and eighth innings.

Vazquez drilled Patino’s first offering of the 13th – a fastball – just over the top of the Green Monster to give the Red Sox the win.

“Yeah, there’s plenty of confidence and there should be plenty of confidence,” Cash said. “We certainly don’t feel like we’re out of anything. Our goal is to find a way to get this back to the Trop.”

Patino was lined up to start Game 4, leaving the Rays with an especially taxed staff facing elimination.

“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of discussions into the night and into tomorrow. Confident everybody that everybody threw one or one-plus is fine to bounce right back,” Cash said. “We’ve got (Collin McHugh) down who didn’t pitch. (Michael Wacha) didn’t pitch, and we’ll find a way to piece it together.”

The Rays took a pitching staff into the postseason in 2020 that was deep and dominant in late innings. But of the 13 pitchers on their ALDS roster this year, none of them made a start in any of the club’s 20 games from last postseason.

Red Sox outfielder Kike Hernandez, who was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers team that beat the Rays in last season’s World Series, has made Tampa Bay pay the most often for its pitching shortcomings in Games 2 and 3.

He had three hits, a home run and two RBIs on Sunday. It came after Hernandez had five of Boston’s 20 hits in Game 2, including a homer and three doubles in a 14-6 comeback win.

Meanwhile, Tampa’s offense has struggled to support their pitchers in back-to-back losses.

With the Red Sox starting right-hander Nathan Eovaldi on Sunday, the Rays were hoping to get a lift with lefties Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi and Joey Wendle in the lineup for the first time this series.

Meadows hit a two-run home run in the first inning to put Tampa in front and Wendle also had a hit. But the rest of the lineup struggled, with the Rays stranding seven runners on base.

Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said they must back up whoever is on the mound Monday.

“We’ve got to put our big boy pants on and just come out and do everything in our power to try to win a ballgame,” he said.

It’s all left a team that won a club-record 100 games this season and made winning the AL East look easy now in search of quick answers.

With a short turnaround for Game 4 on Monday night at Fenway, it will now require even more ingenuity on Cash’s part if the Rays hope to save their season.

Trevor Bauer pulls on No. 96 for Yokohama’s BayStars

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

YOKOHAMA, Japan – Trevor Bauer apparently was shunned by every major league team, so he’s signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Before about 75 reporters in a Yokohama hotel, he slipped on the BayStars uniform – No. 96 – on Friday and said all the right things. Not a single Japanese reporter asked him about his suspension in the United States over domestic violence allegations or the reasons surrounding it.

The only question about it came from The Associated Press. Bauer disputed the fact the question suggested he was suspended from the major leagues.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” he said of the suspension. “But I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to pitch again. I’ve always wanted to play in Japan.”

He said the suspension dealt technically with matters of pay, and he said he had contacted major league teams about playing this year. He said he would have been eligible, but did not say if he had offers.

The 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 12, three weeks after an arbitrator reduced his suspension imposed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred from 324 to 194 games.

The penalty followed an investigation into domestic violence, which the pitcher has denied.

Manfred suspended Bauer last April for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy, after a San Diego woman said he beat and sexually abused her in 2021.

Bauer has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying everything that happened between him and the woman was consensual. He was never charged with a crime.

Bauer joined his hometown Dodgers before the 2021 season and was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts before being placed on paid leave.

Bauer said his goal with the BayStars was to strike out 200 and keep his average fastball velocity at 96 mph – hence his uniform number. He said he is also working on a better change-up pitch.

He said he hoped to play by mid-April – about two weeks after the Japanese season begins – and said he has been training for the last 1 1/2 years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength training and throwing,” he said. “I didn’t really take any time off. So I’ve had a year and a half of development time. I’m stronger than ever. More powerful than ever.”

Yokohama has not won a title in 25 years, and Bauer said that was his goal in the one-year deal.

“First and foremost, I want to help the Stars win a championship,” he said. “That involves pitching well. That involves helping teammates and learning from them. If they have questions – you know – share my knowledge with them.”

He also repeated several times about his desire to play in Japan, dating from a collegiate tournament in 2009 at the Tokyo Dome. He said playing in Japan was on his mind even before winning the Cy Young – and also immediately after.

“The Tokyo Dome was sold out,” he said. “I’d never played in front of that many people – probably combined in my life. In the United States, college games aren’t very big, so seeing that amount of passion. How many people came to a college game in Japan. It really struck me.”

He said he’d been practicing with the Japanese ball, which he said was slightly softer with higher seams.

“But overall it just feels like a baseball and the pitches move the same. The velocity is similar. I don’t notice much of a difference.”

Other teams in Japan have made similar controversial signings before.

Former major league reliever Roberto Osuna – who received a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy – signed last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

He has signed for this season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

In 1987, Dodgers relief pitcher Steve Howe, who had a career plagued with drug problems, tried to sign with the Seibu Lions. But he did not play in the country after the Japanese baseball commissioner disqualified Howe because of his history of drug abuse.

Bauer was an All-Star in 2018 and went 83-69 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 seasons for Arizona (2012), Cleveland, (2013-19), Cincinnati (2019-20) and the Dodgers. He won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.