ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays knew they had to get by with a bullpen day for Thursday’s three-game series finale with the Detroit Tigers, stretching out reliever Erasmo Ramirez for his first start in more than a year.
So they needed a light night for their bullpen Wednesday. They didn’t get that as starter Chris Archer lasted only five innings, leaving after 104 pitches, but rookie Austin Pruitt stepped up in a big way to help the bullpen and earn his first major league win.
Pruitt, who came in with a 15.88 ERA in his first six appearances, threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief, striking out five batters. Manager Kevin Cash said that on a chaotic night, he kept the Rays in position to pull out an unlikely victory.
“I cannot say enough about what Austin Pruitt did tonight,” Cash said. “I want to say that he’s been snakebit by some unfortunate luck. He’s given up some hard-hit balls. … If anything, he was able to turn it into three innings where he could control the count a little better.”
Detroit (8-6) started 6-2 before losing two straight to the Rays. The Tigers had defensive miscues, even before shortstop Jose Iglesias tripped on second base on a potential game-ending double-play ball and made a throwing error that cost them the game.
“We want to make sure Iglesias is OK,” manager Brad Ausmus said after the game, as Iglesias took a knee to the jaw from a sliding Brad Miller as he went down in the basepath. “That’s the primary focus right now. That’s what we are thinking about.”
Detroit was already playing without outfielder Justin Upton, who badly bruised his right wrist on the opposite play — him making contact with the Rays shortstop on a double-play ball — in Tuesday night’s season opener. Upton didn’t play Wednesday and isn’t expected to play Thursday, leaving them potentially without two starters.
Ramirez, who has a relief win and a 3.72 ERA, threw four innings Saturday with 46 pitches to stretch himself out for Thursday’s start, stepping in for the injured Jake Odorizzi.
The Tigers will counter with LHP Daniel Norris, who is 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA on the season. Norris has as 2.25 career ERA against the Rays, with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. He was sharp in his only previous start at Tropicana Field, holding the Rays to one run in seven innings with seven strikeouts in an April 2015 game.
The Rays have been two different teams this year, 7-2 at home and 1-6 on the road, but they’ll try for an unlikely three-game sweep of the Tigers on Thursday before bringing in Houston for three games.
Detroit can only hope for better luck after a strange finish Wednesday, one that gave Francisco Rodriguez his second blown save and first loss of the season.
“It is frustrating, but at the same time, we can’t control that,” Rodriguez said. “The only thing we can control is to make quality pitches. At the end of the day, there’s no excuse. I didn’t get the job done and that’s why we lost.”