The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the last team in Major League Baseball this season to record a shutout – 117 games. But after Edwin Jackson’s dominant nine-inning performance on Saturday where he accomplished the feat on his own, Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon remained optimistic about a repeat outing out of Sunday night’s starter, Jason Hammel. Maddon hoped that the rookie right-hander could replicate, or at least come close to, Jackson’s complete-game victory and lead Tampa Bay to a win in the rubber game of a three-game series with the Texas Rangers.
But Hammel pitched more like the pre-All-Star break version of Edwin Jackson – 1-9 record, 7.23 ERA – than the aggressive version of the pitcher who was clocked at 99-mph deep into the ninth inning in an eight-strikeout gem on Saturday night. Hammel (1-2) struggled with his command and control through four-plus less than stellar innings as the Devil Rays dropped the finale to Texas, 9-1. He allowed seven hits, five runs, all earned, and failed to retire a batter before being removed from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning on his way to his second loss of the season.
In critique of Hammel’s performance, Maddon said, “His velocity was there, but the overall command was not there, with any of his pitches," Maddon said. "That got us in trouble."
Pitching in the blistering heat, Hammel ran into trouble at the start of the third inning. Rookie outfielder David Murphy – an extra-base hit machine on Sunday – doubled to lead off the inning. That’s when issues with Hammel’s control led to a big inning for the Rangers. After Murphy advanced to third base on a Frank Catalanotto ground out, Hammel allowed back-to-back walks to infielders Ian Kinsler and Michael Young, which loaded the bases for Marlon Byrd. Byrd followed with a two-RBI single up the middle to break a scoreless tie.
The struggles only continued for Hammel and the Devil Rays. Catalatanotto tripled home another run an inning later to put Texas on top 3-0. And in a long fifth inning where the Rangers broke the game wide open after plating four runs, things only got worse. Young led off the inning with a solo home run, the 100th homer of his career, to give Texas a commanding 4-0 lead. Marlon Byrd followed with a line-drive double that chased Hammel from the game. But Jon Switzer, who came in relief of Hammel, couldn’t put out the fire. Switzer gave up a run-scoring single to Brad Wilkerson and allowed RBI doubles by Jason Botts and Murphy. In the inning, the left-hander, who was recently called up from Triple-A Durham, allowed three earned runs to raise his ERA to 17.18 in five big-league appearances this season.
Texas starter Kason Gabbard, recently acquired in the deal that sent Eric Gagne to the Boston Red Sox, failed to make it out of the second inning, making Hammel’s start seem long. Unfortunately for the Devil Rays though, Gabbard’s early exit had nothing to do with his performance. After throwing one pitch in the second inning, he left the game because of forearm stiffness. The left-hander, who is listed as day-to-day, registered four outs before his departure and is now 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three starts with the Rangers.
Middle reliever Willie Eyre picked up right where Gabbard left off. Eyre, who tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings, combined with righty Wes Littleton to keep the Devil Rays off the scoreboard until the top of the eighth.
But perhaps even more impressive, the Texas bullpen kept Crawford in check all night, a daunting challenge for the rest of the American League over the past three weeks. Entering the game, Crawford was on fire – 22-for-57 (.595) in his last eight games – but the speedy outfielder, who started at designated hitter, finished the night 0-for-5. He also left five men on base to snap a career-high 13-game hitting streak.
Jonny Gomes, who batted in the leadoff spot and filled in for Crawford in left field, was one of the only bright spots on the night for Tampa Bay. Gomes did his best Crawford imitation – stealing his fifth base of the season – and had the lone RBI for the Devil Rays. He finished the game 3-for-5 to raise his season batting average to .264. Gomes two-out RBI single in the eighth, his third and final hit, helped the Devil Rays prevent a shutout.
Infielder Josh Wilson – making a start at third base – contributed two hits, becoming the only other Devil Rayss player with more than one, and scored the lone run of the game for Tampa Bay. Wilson is hitting .255 since being acquired from the Washington Nationals earlier in the season.
The Devil Rays traveled to Boston this morning and will open up a three-game series with the Red Sox tonight. James Shields, looking to carry over the success from his latest start, a dominant win over the Detroit Tigers, will take the mound for the Devil Rays. Shields will square off against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who has 17 career wins against Tampa Bay. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 at Fenway Park.
Game Notes- The Devil Rays struck out 12 times on Sunday night. With the loss, the Devil Rays are now 3-4 on the current road trip, which started with a split with the Tigers at the end of last week. The team was expected to land in Boston at 5:30 AM this morning, giving them only a few hours of relaxation before reporting to the ballpark this afternoon. Akinori Iwamura – hitting only .209 on the road trip – took the night off on Sunday. Sunday night’s game, a rarity for the Devil Rays, wasn’t televised.
Murphy, who, like Gabbard, was acquired in the Boston deal and is one of the reasons for Sammy Sosa’s diminished role in the second-half, finished the game 3-for-4 with three doubles. He is now batting .556 (5-for-9) with the Rangers.